After opening weekend of Marcus Gardley’s The Gospel of LovingKindness at the Mosaic Theater of DC, Deidra LaWan Starnes took a few days to reflect on the play and admitted it was even more powerful than she originally perceived—especially around the holidays.
“It’s set around Christmas time and there’s this whole idea around the gospel of love and kindness. My character has this one moment when she says that God’s son gave us the gifts of love and kindness and that the whole idea is that Christmas isn’t about the material things it has become, it is about caring for each other and just being conscious of each other,” she says. “There are a number of other Christmas-themed plays out there now, but this is just a very different view with a Christmas season that goes awry.”
Starnes, a favorite in the Maryland/DC theater community, who is also a Helen Hayes Award recipient and DC Theatre Scene Audience Choice Award winner, was drawn to the show by the opportunity to work with director Jennifer L. Nelson and Mosaic’s Ari Roth.
“To be asked by the two of them to be part of this project, without even reading it, I said yes,” she says. “I read the script and I really loved it—the issues that it orchestrated are so relevant today.”
The story is based on a real occurrence: a teenager sings at the White House and shortly thereafter is shot over his Air Jordan’s that he just begged his mom to buy him. Starnes plays the mother of the dead boy.
“There’s a whole series of vignettes around this grieving mother who takes a journey to become a voice in the community,” Starnes says. “It raises a lot of questions about the lack or resources for young people, lack of jobs for people and just how when something bad in the community happens, how it’s handled and how the funds are used in these circumstances.”
Starnes is the only one of the four actors in the production not to play multiple roles, and she admits she’s happy that’s the case since the emotional toll of the grieving mother is enough for her.
“There’s something she says in the course of the play—it’s an old African proverb and people still say it today—‘It takes a village.’ And another thing she says is ‘you can’t make the streets safe if you don’t give people options.’ She says these things in terms of fighting for her community, but at the end of the day, her discovery is we’re always looking for answers, but those answers are in each last one of us. All we need to do is take a stand and have a voice for ourselves and we don’t need someone to come in and save us.”
At a talk back session after the initial performances, the cast had the chance to speak with a woman who had walked out of the production and then walked back in later. They learned that she had lost a child to violence so the play hit too deep for her and she needed a moment. Another audience member praised them for being so truthful about what’s happening with the youth around DC.
THE GOSPEL OF LOVING KINDNESS
December 9 – January 3, 2016
The Mosaic Theater Company of DC
at Atlas Performing Arts Center
1333 H Street NE
Tickets: $30 – $50
“I think people are very appreciative of the work and of the message,” Starnes says. “It’s a very powerful piece and very poetic. It’s up-in-your-face and being in a black box, it’s almost as if the audience is part of your world.”
This is Starnes’ first time working at Mosaic, although she has worked with Roth before at Theater J and knows he is always looking for relevant productions that speak for the community. As for Nelson, Starnes has a long working relationship with the director, having worked with her numerous times in her 25 years of acting.
“I would say she is responsible for my success here in the Washington community because she casts me consistently,” she says. “Having the trust of both of them, people who believe in you, it’s just a no-brainer to want to work with them again because you feel safe. They know who you are, they know what you can do, and they have a great way of working productively.”
When she’s not wowing them on the stage, Starnes works as a performing arts teacher in an elementary school, and is happy that the calling to be an actor came her way.
“It’s hard for me to explain what I love about acting, other than that I know it was put in me to do so,” she says. “When I went to college, I was a business major and I never had any plans to be a professional actor, even though I had been acting since I was in elementary school. After three years at school, I had this epiphany that I wasn’t doing what I should be doing, so I changed the agenda.”