Condola Rashad
(© Tristan Fuge)
Condola Rashad
(© Tristan Fuge)
Condola Rashad first came to theatergoers' attention with her breathtaking performance as Sophie in Lynn Nottage's Pulitzer-Prize winning drama Ruined, for which she earned a Theatre World Award. Now, she's earning standing ovations every night for her work as Cheryl, the daughter of the LeVay family maid, in the Broadway production of Lydia R. Diamond's comedy-drama Stick Fly at the Cort Theatre. TheaterMania recently spoke to Rashad about the piece, working with the show's producer, Alicia Keys, and the reactions of her famous parents to her opening night performance.

THEATERMANIA: What appealed to you about playing Cheryl?
CONDOLA RASHAD: She's not just the maid's daughter, so I am very happily challenged by the complexity of this part. In a way, Cheryl sneaks up on the audience. In the first act, I have to try to be completely pleasant to all the characters on the stage, but everything quietly builds up. I like that Cheryl is very strong and confident and yet she finally realizes she's not as confident as she thinks is.

TM: As the daughter of well-known parents (Phylicia and Ahmad Rashad), your upbringing was very different than Cheryl's. How do you relate to her?
CR: I went to a school like Cheryl's, but unlike her, I didn't go on scholarship or have to fight hard to stay there. I never felt it would be taken away. So to make the character true, at least in some form, I had to find something in my life to connect with her. Cheryl has this thing about people not seeing her, and that's something I have felt during my life. I've been insecure about being tall and lanky and not being seen the way I want to be seen, and so does Cheryl. Realizing that helped the character fall into place for me.

TM: Although you're only in your 20s, were you concerned about being believable as an 18-year-old?
CR: I was, even though I still feel like 18. One night after the show, this 18-year-old girl asked me how old I was, and when I told her, she said "I thought you were younger than me," and then I felt better. It's so important to me that everything about Cheryl feels as real as possible.

Rosie Benton, Condola Rashadand Mekhi Phifer in Stick Fly
(© Richard Termine)
Rosie Benton, Condola Rashad
and Mekhi Phifer in Stick Fly
(© Richard Termine)
TM: How did your director, Kenny Leon -- who is a very close friend of your family -- help you achieve that?
CR: Kenny's idea of directing -- and he's the same way with everyone -- is to say, "you tell me the truth, and if you don't, I'll tell you." Personally, I love working with a director who tells you when you are terrible or if you're forcing something.

TM: What was it like working with Alicia Keys, who is not only a producer but actually composed the show's music while you rehearsed?
CR: I have so much respect for her. Some celebrities might put their name to a show and then sign off and never be around. But she came to rehearsals and watched us, and what we did informed the music she wrote. It was like having a dialogue. I have to tell you we've made our own musical based on the music cues. Every character has a song, which is based on words in the play, and we sing it out loud every night.

TM: Both of your parents came to your opening night. What did they say to you after?
CR: It was so exciting to have them both there. My dad just loved the play, and I think that's because it shows a side of African-American culture we don't always get to see. My mom loved it too, but she and and I have our own thing. Only if I ask her specific questions about my performance, then she'll tell me what to do. Here, she told me to keep my volume up, and she's right. But the best thing is that all of my siblings were there and my mother brought all these important women in my life--like the person who used to take care of me as a kid and my godmother. And I had my two best friends there. It was amazing.

TM: Are you thinking about life after Stick Fly?
CR: Right now, I just try to get through the day and stay focused on the play. But I have to be honest; I definitely hear that some doors might open for me because of this show. The best thing is I might get to do a little more comedy in the future. After Ruined, I kept being called in for these very dramatic roles, which I do not think is my forte. I think of myself as a comedic actor, and I am so happy I can show more colors in this part. And I know Hollywood might call, but I can't imagine wanting to leave the stage right now. I'm staying here as long as this show runs, that's for sure. I'm good.