Interview: Tory Kittles Connects with His Character in Home

The Equalizer star takes on his second Broadway role at the Todd Haimes Theatre.

Stori Ayers, Tory Kittles, and Brittany Inge star in Roundabout Theatre Company’s new Broadway production of Samm-Art Williams’s Home, directed by Kenny Leon, at the Todd Haimes Theatre.
(© Joan Marcus)

How did Tory Kittles, best known for roles on TV series like The Equalizer and True Detective, find his way to the current Broadway revival of Samm-Art Williams’s Home? “When Kenny Leon calls,” says Kittles, “you say yes. I always jump at the chance to work with Kenny.”

Fortunately, Roundabout Theatre Company’s production dates coincided with Kittles’s hiatus from The Equalizer, where he has played NYPD detective Marcus Dante for the past four seasons. And just as crucial, the 45-year-old Tony-nominated play and its central character, North Carolina farmer Cephus Miles, struck a chord with Kittles when he read it.

“The play is like a life-affirming poem,” the actor praises. “We discovered this in the rehearsal process. It’s really about getting back to your core values and who you really are, and being able to go back to where you came from.”

Originally produced off-Broadway by the Negro Ensemble Company in 1979, Home follows Cephus’s travails as he struggles to do just that. For the play’s 90 minutes, Kittles never leaves the stage, delivering a wonderfully poignant performance as Cephus has his heart broken, loses his land and moves to a city in the North, becoming increasingly discombobulated along the way.

Brittany Inge, Tory Kittles, and Stori Ayers star in Roundabout Theatre Company’s new Broadway production of Samm-Art Williams’s Home, directed by Kenny Leon, at the Todd Haimes Theatre.
(© Joan Marcus)

At one point Cephus declares, “When you hold a plant, you can feel the heartbeat of God,” but when times get tough he complains that whenever he needs God, the deity always seems to be in Miami on vacation.

“He’s a man struggling with his faith, and as much as he’s at war with it, he also can’t let it go,” Kittles says. “It’s the thing that gets him through his darkest moments: the belief that things can change. There’s a saying that if you keep falling and falling eventually someone will come along and help you walk. And I think that is one of the metaphors of Cephus’s journey.”

Although Home is only his second Broadway show (he understudied Anthony Mackie in A Behanding in Spokane), Kittles has played a variety of characters. In the UK, he took on the role of Paul Robeson in Nicholas Wright’s 8 Hotels, and in Atlanta he appeared with Phylicia Rashad in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, directed by Leon, who also cast Kittles opposite his Equalizer co-star Queen Latifah in the 2012 TV remake of Steel Magnolias.

When Home transferred to Broadway in 1980, Kittles was a boy living in the small northern Florida town of Lawtey, and he sees elements of his own upbringing in Cephus’s story. Kittles’s grandmother, who was 106 when she passed away last year, was a big influence. “I grew up on a dirt road, and my grandmother had me and my cousins out in the field,” he remembers. “We picked vegetables and potatoes and corn. We grew our own things. I left home in pursuit of my dream, but there’s a part of me that will always remain home. My mother and father are still there.”

Tori Kittles rehearses with director Kenny Leon for the new Broadway production of Home.
(© Marcus Middleton)

Life in the North has worked out better for Kittles, who enjoys spending time in nature. “Being in touch with the earth grounds you in a different way,” he says. “Just sitting out on the grass in Central Park, or just putting your feet on actual ground, not cement, actually changes you.”

Cephus, on the other hand, loses himself in the city as he descends into homelessness, something Leon and the cast wanted to make sure they depicted accurately. Leon urged Kittles and his co-stars Brittany Inge and Stori Ayers to take note of the homeless people they encountered when they were walking around the city.

“Kenny made sure we were observant of the people in the streets who were struggling,” Kittles says. “We wanted to make sure we were being true to what that really feels like.”

And Kittles hopes they’re being true to Williams’s spirit. On May 13, just days before performances began, the 78-year-old playwright died in North Carolina. Leon had been in touch with him, and they learned of his passing just before rehearsal on a Sunday morning.

“It added a layer of responsibility to celebrate his work and his life and his legacy,” Kittles says. “I hope Samm is smiling down on us and would approve of what we’re doing.”

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Closed: July 21, 2024