Final Bow: Jitney's Carra Patterson Is the Only Woman at the Station
Broadway's first "Rena" shares highlights from her time with the last jewel in August Wilson's crown.
Throughout the run, Carra Patterson never needed a reminder that she was the only woman in the room, whether from an audience member at a post-show talkback or the uniquely female experiences she lent the rehearsal process with director Ruben Santiago-Hudson. "I feel like I've grown tremendously as an artist and as a woman, being the only woman in this historic production," said Patterson, reminiscing about her time with the show — the last of Wilson's Pittsburgh cycle to be produced on a Broadway stage.
Patterson plays Rena, a young mother and the girlfriend of her cab-driving high school sweetheart, Darnell (a.k.a. YoungBlood, played by André Holland), with whom she tries to negotiate an adult relationship in 1970s Pittsburgh. It's a role she's eyed since high school, and now, having performed it on the play's biggest stage to date, she took a few minutes to look back on the experience, filled with crush-worthy guests, stealable costumes, and a lover's quarrel that required a team of married actors to choreograph.
1. What is your favorite line that you get to say?
"She's my sister, Darnell, don't you think I can tell if she's trying to hide something?" That's a fun line to say every night. I'm totally thinking he's cheating at the time so there's a lot of venom underneath that. I have fun with that line.
2. Everyone loves inside jokes. What is the best one from your show?
In every talkback, everyone wants to see how I'm gonna respond to the question of what it's like to be the only woman in a cast full of men. They're all sort of looking at me to see how I'm going to answer. One of the actors — I won't say who — suggested we play a joke on the audience the next time they ask me that question, by completely cutting me off and interrupting me while I'm trying to answer what it's like to be the only woman in the show. We thought it would be hilarious to see how the audience would respond. We never got to try it during an actual talkback, but that's probably the most consistent joke that we have as a cast. The thought of the only woman being interrupted by men during talkbacks.
3. Every show experiences technical difficulties. What was the worst technical difficulty experienced during your show and how was it handled?
One night there was a fan above the lights that was very loud and it started as soon as our play started. We were doing our scenes and just hearing a huge loud fan above our heads, but they couldn't fix it in the middle of the show because we wouldn't have had any lights. So we just had to all plow through and tune out the fan. The audience was very kind that night.
4. Who is the coolest person that came to see your show? (You can't say your family!)
Rita Moreno, Denzel Washington, and my Broadway crush, Norm Lewis. Those are my top three. I've tried to make sure I have my phone with me at all times so I can be ready for pictures.
7. You have some fabulous 1970s period costumes. Which of the pieces that you wear would you most want to steal?
All of them! I'm in two scenes, so I have these two really great outfits (Toni-Leslie James is our costume designer). In real life I actually have a more '70s style, especially in the summer time — I'm drawn to like flower pants and halter tops. There's a sweater with stripes on it that I wear in my first scene that I would love to own, and there's a red leather jacket in my second scene. I want both of these pieces. I really want both of the outfits, but I'll settle for the jacket and the sweater.
5. As the only woman in the cast, were you able to lend a unique perspective in the rehearsal room?
Ruben wanted us to bring our own histories and our own personal journeys into the rehearsal space. There were a couple of times André Holland and I were on our feet rehearsing and he was discussing with Ruben what his impulses were, and we were sort of trying to navigate — if his character moves like this, how would my character respond? And I was like, "Oh no, if you turn your back to me on this part it's gonna be a different kind of argument." That's what I loved about the rehearsal process. Everyone was called at the same time, so some of the married guys would chime in and be like, "No man, you gotta listen at this part or the argument won't end well."
6. You've mentioned in the past that this is a very special role for you. What drew you most to the character of Rena?
She's one of the youngest of August Wilson's leading women, so I think initially it was easy for me to relate to her. I was in high school when I first encountered the house monologue, so it was easy for me to imagine her circumstances. As a teenager I didn't have a child, but my mother had me when she was a teenager, so I immediately read it and thought, "Oh, I know her. I could do that." It reminded me a lot of my mother and her journey being a young parent and trying to get my father on board. What I love about Rena and YoungBlood is that they both want to do the best for their family and for their son, but they have two totally different ways of going about it. I could relate to that in my personal life.
8. What is your next August Wilson dream role?
I feel like this is a lot of women's dream August Wilson role, but I want to do Vera at some point in Seven Guitars. And then Rose eventually in Fences, and Tonya in King Hedley II. But let's start with Vera.
9. Where are Rena and YoungBlood now?
I think they make it. I actually wasn't sure when I first approached the role, but I think August captures a major transition in their relationship and they're going to be able to grow together throughout life. I want to believe that they're happily married in their home and they have grandchildren now. I think they're going to last.