When you ask actress, playwright and director Regina Taylor when she has time to sleep, she just laughs.
She won a Golden Globe Award for Best Performance by an Actress in TV’s “I’ll Fly Away” (1993) as well as NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series (1995). She’s been a guest star on “The Red Line” and “The Good Fight.” Next year she’s featured in Netflix’s new “All Day and a Night” written and directed by “Black Panther” writer Joe Robert Cole.
“It’s absolutely brilliant and wonderful,” she said about the new series in a recent telephone interview.
On Broadway she played the first black Juliet in “Romeo and Juliet,” Celia in “As You Like It” and First Witch in “Macbeth” in the 1980s. Her play “Drowning Crow,” an adaption of Anton Chekhov‘s “The Seagull,” made it to Broadway in 2004.
“Directing, acting, playwriting all feed each other,” she said, declining to pick a favorite occupation.
McCarter Theatre in Princeton and Manhattan’s Second Stage Theatre commissioned her to write “Crowns,” produced in 2003, and based on a book about Southern black women and their spectacular hats for Sunday services. McCarter theater revived it last year and Taylor updated and directed it.
She’s done that and more with “Oo-Bla-Dee,” first was produced at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre in 1999 and scheduled to run June 8 to 30 at the Two River Theater in Red Bank. Ruben Santiago-Hudson, also an actor, playwright and director, helms this production. (He also earned a Tony Award for his performance in “Seven Guitars” in 1996.)
“I’m very passionate about this particular piece,” Taylor said. “The subject matters.”
“Oo-Bla-Dee” follows Evelyn Waters and the Diviners, an all-black female jazz band, traveling from St. Louis to Chicago seeking a record deal at the end of World War II. The newest member of the group, sax player Gin Del Sol (played by Allison Semmes) wrestles with the complex timing of the music as well as the complicated times in which she lives.
Along the way, the woman find their place, discover themselves and their own voices in a male territory, Taylor explained, about the work she defines as “a play with a lot of music.”
“It was OK then for a woman to play piano,” Taylor said. “It was not OK for a woman to be slobbering overing an instrument or putting one between her legs.
“And it was a new type of music from African-Americans — in their own voice — at a time when swing was the mainstream music for white America,” she said. “Bebop was a new sound all their own.”
Bebop took jazz harmonies and superimposed on them additional chords, according to the Encyclopedia Brittanica. It also broke up the metronomic regularity of the drummer’s rhythmic pulse and produced solos played in double time … The result was complicated improvisation.
Proponents of the early 1940s movement included trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, pianist Thelonious Monk, drummer Kenny Clarke, and alto saxophonist Charlie “Bird” Parker. (Taylor has a cat named Coltrane, after the American jazz saxophonist and composer.)
Besides the music and female musicians, she said, “Oo-Bla-Dee” also addresses what will happen when the men return from war to find that women had choices. And, she added, the African-American men who had been were heroes overseas would handle returning to the Jim Crow south.
“Those issues excited me about this piece and still do,” Taylor said.
And she’s waiting to hear about start dates for two more commissioned plays. For the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, a work about the Fisk Jubilee Singers, an African-American a cappella ensemble, formed in 1871 that toured the world. And for the Old Vic theater in London, a hip-hop version about the Greek slave and storyteller Aesop.
Really. I mean it! There is no absolutely no way this woman has time to sleep.