Actor Enoch King is three-for-three at American Stage. His current role as Reggie, the conflicted sub-manager at a Detroit auto plant in Dominique Morisseau’s riveting drama Skeleton Crew, follows his electrifying turns as Walter in Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun (2017) and Junior in Stephen Adly Guirgis’ Between Riverside and Crazy (2018).
Here is an actor who not only holds the stage, he holds the audience in the palm of his outstretched hand.
“The common theme,” explains the Atlanta native, “is black men trying to find their place. Walter was trying to create a new idea of wealth in his family, albeit the way the was doing may not have been the most successful way, or the most beneficial way. It was a desire to have something beyond him – he was fighting for his family. Fighting for his son.
“For Junior, it was a similar thing – wanting a better connection with family. And a better understanding with his father.
“And it’s the same thing with Reggie. I tap into that frustration of being misunderstood, and people not seeing how I’m fighting. It may not be the way that you want it to be, but I’m trying to do it for the betterment of everybody involved.”
Reggie is the odd man out in the four-character Skeleton Crew. Faye, Dez and Shanita are employees – Faye is approaching her 30-year anniversary at the plant – who meet up in the break room and discuss their future.
Or their perceived lack of one. When Reggie appears at the break room door, with his necktie and his clipboard and his officious attitude, it usually means bad news.
Morisseau’s ultra-realistic dialogue crackles with life; each character has his or her own internal drama, and all of them bubble to the surface at one point or another.
“There’s an alone-ness that comes with Reggie,” King says. “There’s an isolation. Because management is heard about but never seen, and I have to interact with that aspect of management. And Faye, Dez and Shanita have a connection that’s separate from Reggie.
“He can’t talk to his wife, at home, about it, so he’s in his own space. And that goes to feeding off of the other characters. We try to talk to each other, but we don’t know the language.”
Morisseau (Pipeline, Broadway’s Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of the Temptations) has crafted a story that hits many of the touchstones of working-class American life. One of the things about American Stage’s Skeleton Crew that makes it stand out is now natural it all feels – if you’ve ever worked a blue-collar job and sipped coffee in a dingy, fluorescent break room, these people will all seem familiar.
A lot of the credit, says King, goes to director L. Peter Callender. “He’s very accommodating. We call him an actor’s director. I mean, he’s an actor, so he completely understands our processes, and he’s always respectful of them.”
Callender and King first worked together on A Raisin in the Sun; they were co-stars in Between Riverside and Crazy.
“I try to be accommodating as an actor,” adds King, “‘cause it’s real easy for me to be like ‘I don’t know if my character would do that,’ and just shut it down immediately. But I’ve learned, especially working with Peter, to say yes. And if it doesn’t work, we’ll figure out a way that makes it work.”
Enoch King’s adventure in the arts began in his high school chorus. He was always a singer, and had never thought about acting. Until, that is, he reluctantly signed up for a play-production class.
The ton of bricks that figuratively hit him was Marc Antony’s eulogy (“Friends, Romans, countrymen ….”) from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. “It hit me so hard because I read it … and I understood it.
“It was like in The Matrix, when Neo sees all the ones and the zeroes falling down. ‘Ohhh, I get this.’ I was so excited I started running around. I just wanted to do it. In my social studies class, I was like, ‘Can I do this monologue for you guys?’”
After high school, he explains, “I went straight into building my career. It was a learning process.”
As a member of Freddie Hendricks’ Youth Ensemble of Atlanta, he learned, and he worked. And he worked and he learned. “That showed me how to make this thing into my own.”
His earliest regional theater roles were in comedies (he still does comic roles – recently, in fact, he wrapped a production of A Tuna Christmas).
The intense dramatic parts – the likes of Walter, Junior and Reggie – came later.
These are roles that could only be played by an African American actor – each play is, in its own way, about the black experience – but today, King believes, many pre-existing lines are being blurred. Which is, of course, only making the talent pool richer.
“At this point it’s less about trying to fit a square peg in a round hole, in terms of trying to incorporate black actors into shows for their mainly white casts,” he says. “I don’t have an issue with that. But there are a ton of playwrights who are people of color that have stories to be told that could expand out – that will allow that opportunity.”
He still remembers a production of Romeo and Juliet he was in, at the Georgia Shakespeare Festival. He played Benvolio, Romeo’s cousin and a member of the House of Montague.
“It was a predominantly black cast, and the company had tons of emails and letters from the audience who were not happy about that at all.
“I had an interaction with a white woman who came and saw the show, and literally said to me and my castmate when we were standing there ‘Yeah, I didn’t like it – too many black people,’ and just walked away.”
Tickets and info here.