Between knock down, drag out fights with “Fool for Love” co-star Jasmine Guy this month, we had a moment to congratulate True Colors Theatre artistic director Kenny Leon on being selected as one of Atlanta magazine’s “50 Who Made Atlanta” in our 50th anniversary issue now on stands.
That’s huge!” said Leon. Wow, I’m honored and humbled. Coming from the city I live and love in? That’s major. The magazine has been around that long? Happy 50th and congratulations!”
Tonight, Leon and Guy open a limited four-week engagement of Sam Shepard’s “Fool for Love” at the Balzer Theatre at Herren’s downtown. When the play about two former lovers imploding inside a seedy Mojave Desert motel opened on Broadway in 1983, New York Times critic Frank Rich described the result as “an indoor rodeo.” Intel, meanwhile, has always preferred to think of the 90-minute declaration of verbal warfare as “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” in cowboy hats.
Originally, Leon was scheduled to be in New York this spring preparing the MLK-themed “The Mountaintop” starring his old Atlanta pal Samuel L. Jackson but the production has now been pushed to this fall.
“I tried to stay off the stage but you know, I’m an actor, I’m an artist,” Leon told us. “When the Broadway show [‘The Mountaintop’] got bumped to August, it freed up my schedule. My staff sort of encouraged me and talked me into this. Now, I’m busting my butt learning lines again!”
“Fool for Love” reunites Leon with actor-director and True Colors mainstay Guy. “It’s been such a great experience working with her,” said Leon. “I actually feel more responsible as an actor now. I realize I can’t get up there and mess this up! I have to give the audiences of Atlanta who have supported me all these years the very best I have to offer. It’s scary and exciting all at the same time.”
Of Shepard’s play, Leon told us: “It’s a universal theme and we’re changing it up a little by introducing an African-American Western couple into it. With an integrated family, the story becomes more universal. But it also explores the theme of love and the folks you love but can’t stand. We’ve all been in the situation where we love people but we don’t want to be around them and yet we can’t be without them in our lives. More than anything, ‘Fool for Love’ explores what love really is.”
Still, rehearsing screaming matches that become physical altercations can be emotionally exhausting for Leon and Guy. “It’s been an intense rehearsal period, believe me!” Leon allowed. “We always make sure we hug each other after a really intense scene. It’s been fun being in the room with an actress you really respect though. You know she has your back and she knows I have hers. When Jasmine first left Hollywood and came back to Atlanta, I gave her her first play. She did ‘Miss Evers’ Boys’ at True Colors. She reminded me recently that was the first non-musical play she had been in. I didn’t know that. I’ve just always considered her an amazing actress. For us to come full circle with this two years later and get to act together is really a further exploration of our working relationship. I think the audiences in Atlanta will find this to be something real special and unique. I know one thing: They’re going to get both of us giving 110 percent up there!”
Saturday night’s performance of “Fool for Love” also serves as a True Colors benefit (buy benefit tickets here). We asked Leon to articulate what True Colors non-subscribers need to know about his theater company’s work. “We’re constantly exploring those issues of diversity,” he said. “We all bleed the same blood and the highest way we have of honoring each other is through our story-telling. We need the funding in order to continue telling those stories. At True Colors, we’re saying, ‘Hey, we all live in the same world. Let’s honor each other.’ Being in Atlanta, the home of the civil rights movement, we should be leaders in the field of diversity. I feel a very strong connection to people like Andy Young, Maynard Jackson, Hank Aaron and Ted Turner. There’s a reason you all chose to honor them in your 50th anniversary issue. They’re at the core of what Atlanta is about. We’re about Buckhead to Auburn Avenue. And telling all of those stories along the way is what makes Atlanta great. I can’t think of a better way to spend my life.”