John Power Sr. is the kind of man you love to hate.
“But he’s also the kind of man you hate to love,” Leroy London said. “He’s controlling and powerful, yet he’s done so much for so many people. He helped black people in a time when they didn’t have equal rights.”
And at age 73, he’s one of Atlanta’s most successful lawyers. Well, he was a success until he is murdered.
Now only one question remains: who did it? Or, as asked in pop culture vernacular, “whodunit?”
Nobody will know until the end of Gloria J. Browne’s murder mystery, Killing Me Softly. That is, with the exception of UpStage Theatre’s cast and crew.
And even they couldn’t guess the culprit’s identity while reading the script.
“It keeps you guessing,” Ava Brewster-Turner said. “Once you think you might know who did it, the play takes a turn, and suddenly you don’t know.”
Turner is UpStage’s founder and director. She also is director of this play, the third winner in the company’s annual Emerging Playwright Series.
Killing Me Softly will open Friday, Sept. 14, and run for four performances. Browne will fly into Baton Rouge from her home in New York for the first performance, after which she will conduct a talk-back with the audience.
This production marks a first for UpStage Theatre.
“It’s the first time we’ve ever done a murder mystery,” Turner said.
It’s also the first time the company has cast two actors in the leading role. Technically London, who earlier said John Power Sr. is a man you hate to love, is listed as the understudy for the role of Power Sr.
Still, London will perform on opening night, and Claude Sterling will step into the role for the rest of the performances.
Each has a different approach to the role.
“I’m a more in-your-face John Power Sr.,” London said.
“And I’m more quiet and intense,” Sterling added.
Meaning, if you attend more than one show, you’ll see the same story, yet two completely different performances. But even with one performance, you’ll understand why everyone hates John Power Sr.
True, he’s a powerful attorney. True, he’s a success. And yes, he’s about to retire.
“But he wants to hold on to that power,” Troy Kennedy said. “So, he pushes his son to run for mayor.”
Kennedy plays John Power Sr.’s son, John Power Jr. But the younger Power isn’t interested in running for mayor. In fact, he has no interest at all in politics.
Still, the elder Power pushes the younger. Well, he pushes everyone.
“And when he’s murdered, everyone in this play has a motive,” Turner said. “Everyone from the janitor to the jazz singer to the secretary — everyone.”
Now, there is some symbolism here. Power’s name reflects his character, and he manages to hold on to his power even in death.
“He returns after he dies,” Turner said. “And he’s still wielding his power.”
But the janitor, Jester Jackson, doesn’t appreciate Power’s stronghold. Jackson has a friendly personality and likes to inject humor into his conversations.
“But John Power Sr. talks down to him,” Cedric Clarke said.
Clarke plays Jester Jackson, and though he says he’s not like his character, he understands Jester.
“Jester doesn’t appreciate how he’s treated by John Power,” Clarke said. “He definitely has a motive.”
And speaking of relating to characters, both London and Sterling also have personalities opposite that of John Power Sr.
“Oh, I know a few people who are like him,” London said. “But I’m nothing like him.”
“I watched Denzel Washington’s performance in the movie Training Day to prepare for this role,” Sterling said. “Denzel usually plays good guys, but in Training Day, he played the guy you loved to hate. It was different for him, and his performance was powerful.”
Perhaps there is power when an actor plays a role opposite his personality. All boundaries are removed, allowing him to be that other person on stage.
Not to mention that it’s fun playing the bad guy. Well, that reference might be a little harsh for John Power Sr. Dominant might be a better description.
And John Power Sr. has managed to dominate at least a part of each character’s life in this story. So, the question remains: whodunit?
The answer will be revealed only at UpStage Theatre.
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