If you regularly attend live theatre in Washington, DC, there’s a good chance you’ve seen Michael Kevin Darnall perform onstage. Frequently spotted at the Hub Theatre and Spooky Action Theatre, Darnall recently made his Arena Stage debut in Tony Kushner’s epic play, Angels in America Part One: Millennium Approaches, which recently ended it’s run on the Fichandler Stage on April 23.
Top image: Michael Kevin Darnall as Louis in Angels in America, Part One: Millenium Approaches.
Photo by Margot Schulman.
Darnall, who plays the role of Louis Ironson, spoke with Baltimore OUTLoud to share his thoughts on Arena Stage, the AIDS epidemic, and the danger of apathy:
First, congratulations because this is your Arena debut.
But obviously, you’re not new to DC theatre by any means. Is there anything you can share that feels different about working at Arena?
I feel so protected, safe, at Arena. I’ve been going to Arena since I was in high school; we would take field trips to Arena. It’s really amazing to be there as a professional and not as a student.
Do you remember the first show you saw at Arena?
I think it was “The Imaginary Invalid.” I remember Madonna’s “Material Girl” blaring at the top of the show. Fred Shiffman was in that show and he became my agent at Capital Talent Agency. When I had my first meeting, I brought my program from the play and said “This is you, right?” He said, “Oh my God, I never keep anything, but can I keep this?”
That is incredible! Can you tell me about the Part Two reading last night? How did that go?
It went fabulously well. It was almost surreal; like having a reunion with people we just saw yesterday. The audience was so enthusiastic and so loving. I think most of them had seen Part One. If we don’t have a chance to perform this show, I’m glad we all have this type of closure.
Can you tell me about the first time you saw Angels in America and your initial reaction to it?
We did Angels in America when I was a freshman in college. As a freshman, we had to work stage crew. I remember being backstage in the dark and listening to the story unfold and being so scared and alone. I would go home and cry. I grew up at the height of the AIDS epidemic. We knew so little, we had so little information to talk about. I remember seeing educational videos at 7-11 with “AIDS” in big, bold letters. I was utterly petrified of AIDS.
I saw the play years later at Roundhouse Theatre. It was a play that I really felt, I never needed to do it, didn’t need any part of it, and here we are. When I was given the chance to audition, I actually wanted to reject the invitation.
It’s hilarious that you say that because literally, the next question I have written down is about how I read your castmate Nick Westrate’s interview where he said he went after his role in this play “like a bloodhound.”
I was going to ask if you took a similar approach, which it does not sound like you did.
Not at all! I originally read for the role of Belize. The casting director followed up to tell me that János, the director, wanted me to come back and read for Louis.
I’m glad you did take it. Can you tell me what about the role of Louis challenges you the most?
That text. It’s challenging, he talks so much. That was the most challenging thing; it’s like a workout stringing together those arguments, looking up words in the dictionary, wrapping my brain around his lengthy monologues.
One of the clear themes in the show that jumped out to me is characters who deny themselves and their sexual identity for reasons we’re still seeing today like religious pressure or personal power. Looking at this, how can we empower and support people who are struggling with their identities?
I’ll say this, if you’ve never seen Angels in America, just rip off the Band-Aid and go ahead because if you are struggling with embracing your identity, you can really see that played out on stage, particularly in the character of Joe. You may be able to identify, you may be able to find your voice in this.
It’s not easy. There was that campaign some years ago “It gets better;” it does get better, but it does require a little bit of work. Joe has a moment in the play where he just blurts out who he is, and sometimes, believe it or not, it’s really as easy as that.
This was my first time seeing Angels in America, and while a lot of what is happening on stage is hard to take in, something that really alarmed me was the scene when politicians were discussing their plan to stack the supreme court with Republicans and end liberalism by the 90s. What would you say to someone who sees this and feels discouraged seeing this and doesn’t feel like they have any role in how to better things in our society?
Yeah. A lot of people have come up to us after the show and asked if Tony Kushner re-wrote the play; he hadn’t. We talk about drag culture, issues that are at the forefront, it’s almost prescient the way Tony Kushner wove those moments into the play.
I would encourage anyone to keep your eyes open, keep your ears open. Stay involved, stay aware – don’t bury your head in the sand – it doesn’t behoove you or anyone else. Apathy is really a poison in our society, and I know it’s really easy to get someone else to do it, let others handle specific issues, but there is no harm in being educated, involved, aware.
Absolutely. Let’s wrap this up with two fun questions. What is your favorite line in the show that isn’t your character’s?
When Hannah Pitt is talking to a homeless woman and says, “I’m sorry that you’re psychotic, but just make an effort!”
We can’t finish this without discussing the sand in the show because that’s its own character. Are you still shaking sand out of your hair when you get home?
It’s worse for my character who takes two sand showers during the show. I have so much sand in my hair, I have to wash my hair at least twice after every show. I was blessed to have my own dressing room with my own shower, so I am able to take care of that. Sometimes I just want to get out of there. I’m sure people look at me on the Metro and think I have a terrible case of dandruff. It’s everywhere, but it’s non-toxic therapy sand, so it’s safe. It’s a lot of fun, it’s oddly liberating. It’s not as scary as it may seem to be walking on sand all the time.
The Arena Stage 2022–2023 season is concluding with the new comedy Exclusion, running May 5-June 25. Visit arenastage.org for more information and to purchase tickets.
Theatre Writer for Baltimore OUTloud.
Bekah is a Baltimore-based ally who is obsessed with all things Broadway. In addition to written reviews, she creates social media theatre content @broadwaybekahchica. When she’s not at a show or organizing her Playbills, you can find her rehearsing with the New Wave Singers of Baltimore, enjoying stoop night with friends, or snuggled up with her husband and pets.
- Current Issue2023.08.20The Bridges of Madison County at Signature Theatre: Love is Always Better
- Current Issue2023.06.27Area Theatres Collaborate to Make the World Go ‘Round
- Current Issue2023.06.09“Exclusion” Debuts at Arena Stage
- Current Issue2023.06.09FROZEN’s Tyler Jimenez on What to Let Go, and How to Thaw a Frozen Heart