Harry Lennix and Tamara Tunie Join the Cast of Steppenwolf's PURPOSE

Purpose will play March 14 – April 21, 2024 in Steppenwolf’s Downstairs Theater.

By: Dec. 15, 2023
Harry Lennix and Tamara Tunie Join the Cast of Steppenwolf's PURPOSE
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Harry Lennix (The Blacklist, The DC Universe) and Tamara Tunie (Law & Order: SVU, I Wanna Dance with Somebody) will join the cast of its world premiere of Steppenwolf Theatre Company's Purpose, an epic family drama by two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, directed by two-time Tony Award winner Phylicia Rashad.

Lennix and Tunie are joined by ensemble members Alana Arenas (David Makes Man, The Brother/Sister Plays), Glenn Davis (King James, Downstate) and Jon Michael Hill (Elementary, Pass Over) with Ayanna Bria Bakari (Last Night and the Night Before, The Chi).

“I am simply honored to welcome Harry and Tamara as they make their Steppenwolf debuts in Purpose,” shares Artistic Director Glenn Davis. “Harry – born and raised in Chicago and a Northwestern alum – has been a lifelong mentor of mine, so appearing onstage with him is both thrilling and humbling. Meanwhile I’ve known Tamara and have been a big fan of her work for years and have nothing but admiration for her career across film, TV and theater. I know they both will feel right at home at Steppenwolf, and we look forward to sharing their immense talents with Chicago audiences.”

Purpose will play March 14 – April 21, 2024 in Steppenwolf’s Downstairs Theater, 1650 N. Halsted St. in Chicago Single tickets for Purpose starting at $20 are now on sale at steppenwolf.org or the Box Office at (312) 335-1650. The press opening is Sunday, March 24, 2024 at 6 pm.

For decades, the influential Jasper family has been a pillar of Black American Politics: civil rights leaders, pastors and congressmen. But like all families, there are cracks and secrets just under the surface. When the youngest son Nazareth returns home to Illinois with an uninvited friend in tow, the family is forced into a reckoning with itself, its faith and the legacies of Black radicalism. Rowdy, hilarious and filled with intrigue, Purpose is an epic family drama – a long-awaited world premiere from one of the country’s most celebrated voices.

The creative team includes Todd Rosenthal (Scenic Design), Dede Ayite (Costume Design), Amith Chandrashaker (Lighting Design), Rob Milburn & Michael Bodeen (Sound Design), Patrick Zakem (Creative Producer), Tom Pearl (Producing Director), JC Clementz, CSA (Casting), Laura D. Glenn (Production Stage Manager) and Jaclynn Joslin (Assistant Stage Manager). For full cast and creative team bios, click here.

Production Details:

Title: Purpose – World Premiere!

Playwright: Branden Jacobs-Jenkins

Director: Phylicia Rashad

Cast: Alana Arenas (Morgan Jasper), Glenn Davis (Solomon “Junior” Jasper Jr.) and Jon Michael Hill (Nazareth “Naz” Jasper) with Ayanna Bria Bakari(Angela Houston) Harry Lennix (Solomon “Sonny” Jasper) and Tamara Tunie (Claudine Jasper).

Location: Steppenwolf’s Downstairs Theater, 1650 N. Halsted St., Chicago

Dates: Previews: Thursday, March 14 – Saturday, March 23, 2024

Press performance/Opening: Sunday, March 24, 2024 at 6 pm

Regular run: Tuesday, March 26 – Sunday, April 21, 2024

Curtain Times: Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays at 7:30 pm; Saturdays at 3 pm & 7:30 pm; and Sundays at 3 pm. Please note: there will not be a performance on Tuesday, March 19 or Tuesday, April 16; the will be a 2 pm performance on Wednesday, April 10; there will not be a 7:30 pm performance on Wednesday, April 10.

Tickets: Single tickets for Purpose ($20 - $102) are now on sale at steppenwolf.org and the Box Office at (312) 335-1650. Steppenwolf Flex Memberships are also currently on sale: Black Card Memberships with six tickets for use any time for any production and RED Card Memberships for theatergoers under 30.

Accessible Performance Dates:

Audio-described and touch tour: Sunday, April 7 at 3 pm (1:30 pm touch tour, 3 pm curtain)

Open-captioned: Thursday, April 4 at 7:30 pm and Saturday, April 13 at 3 pm

ASL-interpreted: public performance: Friday, April 12 at 7:30 pm 

Artist Biographies:

Alana Arenas (Morgan Jasper) joined the Steppenwolf Theatre Company ensemble in 2007 and created the role of Pecola Breedlove for the Steppenwolf for Young Adults production of The Bluest Eye, which also played at the New Victory Theater Off-Broadway. Recent Steppenwolf appearances include the Steppenwolf for Young Adults production of Monster, The Fundamentals, Marie Antoinette, Tribes, Belleville, Head of Passes, Good People, Three Sisters, The March, Man in Love, Middletown, The Hot L Baltimore, The Etiquette of Vigilance, The Brother/Sister Plays, The Tempest, The Crucible, Spare Changeand The Sparrow Project. Other theatre credits include Disgraced (American Theater Company), The Arabian Nights (Lookingglass Theatre Company, Berkeley Repertory Theatre and Kansas City Repertory Theatre), Eyes (eta Creative Arts), SOST (MPAACT), WVON (Black Ensemble Theater) and Hecuba(Chicago Shakespeare Theater). Television and film credits include David Makes Man, Canal Street, Crisis, Boss, The Beast, Kabuku Rides and Lioness of Lisabi. She is originally from Miami, Florida, where she began her training at the New World School of the Arts. Alana holds a BFA from The Theatre School at DePaul University.

Ayanna Bria Bakari (Angela Houston) Steppenwolf Theatre Company: Last Night and the Night Before. Chicago: Relentless, Too Heavy for Your Pocket(TimeLine Theatre); Relentless, How to Catch Creation (Goodman Theatre); As You Like It (Chicago Shakespeare Theater); The Niceties – Black Theater Alliance Award, Stickfly (Writers Theatre). Regional: The Salvagers (Asst. Dir. at Yale Repertory Theatre); Clyde's (TheaterWorks Hartford); Sunflowered (Northern Sky Theater); The Rainmaker (Peninsula Players Theatre); The Orginalist (Indiana Repertory Theatre). Television: Wu-Tang: An American Saga(HULU), The CHI (Showtime), Chicago PD, Chicago Fire, Empire (FOX) and 61st Street (AMC). Film: Holiday Heist (BET). Education: BFA, The Theatre School at DePaul University. Ayanna Bria is a governing ensemble member of The Story Theatre and is represented by Stewart Talent. #BLACKLIVESMATTER.

Glenn Davis (Solomon “Junior” Jasper Jr.) is an actor, producer and Artistic Director of Steppenwolf Theatre Company alongside Audrey Francis, where he has been an ensemble member since 2017. His Steppenwolf credits include: Downstate, The Christians, You Got Older, The Brother/Sister Plays, Head of Passes, King James (also Mark Taper Forum, Manhattan Theatre Club) and most recently Describe the Night. Broadway credits include: Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo (also Kirk Douglas Theatre, Mark Taper Forum). Off-Broadway credits include: Transfers (MCC Theatre), Wig Out! (Vineyard Theatre) and Downstate (Playwrights Horizons). Other regional credits include: Moscow x6 (Williamstown Theatre Festival). International credits include: Downstate (National Theatre, UK), Edward II, The Winter’s Tale and As You Like It (Stratford Festival), as well as Othello at The Shakespeare Company. Television credits include: Billions, 24, The Unit, Jericho and The Good Wife. Glenn is an artistic associate at the Young Vic in London and at the Vineyard Theatre in New York. He is also a partner in Cast Iron Entertainment, a collective of artists consisting of Sterling K. Brown, Brian Tyree Henry, Jon Michael Hill, Andre Holland and Tarell Alvin McCraney. Cast Iron is currently in residence at The Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles. In 2021, Glenn founded The Chatham Grove Company along with his producing partner Tarell Alvin McCraney, which is currently in an overall deal with Universal Content Productions (UCP).

Jon Michael Hill (Nazareth “Naz” Jasper) joined the Steppenwolf Theatre Company ensemble in 2007. Steppenwolf: True West (also Galway International Arts Festival), Pass Over, Constellations, Head of Passes, The Hot L Baltimore, The Tempest, Kafka on the Shore, The Unmentionables. Broadway: Pass Over, Superior Donuts. Off-Broadway: The Refuge Plays (New York Theatre Workshop) Pass Over (Lincoln Center). Film: Pass Over, Widows, In The Radiant City, No Pay, Nudity. Television: Upcoming: A Man in Full (Netflix) Elementary (CBS), Detroit 1-8-7 (ABC), Eastbound and Down (HBO), Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (NBC) and Person of Interest (CBS).

Harry Lennix (Solomon “Sonny” Jasper) is a distinguished film, television, stage actor and producer. For the past 10 years, he starred as “Harold Cooper” in NBC’s long-running, hit series The Blacklist. Lennix’s breakout role was “Dresser” in 20th Century Studio’s feature The Five Heartbeats, from director Robert Townsend. He has portrayed fan-favorite characters in blockbuster franchise films such as “General Swanwick/Martian Manhunter” in DC Entertainment’sMan of Steel, Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice and Zack Snyder’s Justice League and as “Commander Lock” in Warner Brothers’ The Matrix franchise films The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions. He also starred as “Joe Adams” in the Oscar Award-winning feature Ray.

Lennix received widespread critical acclaim and a Golden Satellite Award as “Aaron” in Julie Taymor’s Titus with Anthony Hopkins and Jessica Lange. Other select film credits over his decades-spanning career include Spike Lee’s Chi-Raq and Clockers, Gina Prince-Bythewood’s Love & Basketball, Stomp the Yard,Canal Street, Nothing Is Impossible, The Last Fall, A Beautiful Soul, State of Play, Resurrecting the Champ, Chrystal, Barbershop 2: Back In Business, Get on the Bus and Bob Roberts. He has also starred in and produced several films for his production company Exponent Media Group.

On television, Lennix garnered acclaim starring as political activist “Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.” in Showtime’s Keep the Faith Baby. For his performance, he won a Black Reel Award and earned Golden Satellite Award and NAACP Image Award Nominations. He also starred as “Jim Gardner,” the Chief of Staff to POTUS, in the Golden Globe-nominated ABC series Commander in Chief, for which he received an NAACP Image Award Nomination. Other television credits include Showtime’s Billions, HBO’s Insecure and Little Britain, CW’s Emily Owens, M.D., NBC’s ER, Fox’s Dollhouse and 24, among many others. He recently lent his voice to Matthew A. Cherry’s animated MAX series Young Love, based on his Oscar-winning short film, Cartoon Network’s Transformers: Robots in Disguise and can soon be heard in Zack Snyder’s animated Netflix series Army of the Dead: Lost Vegas.

In theatre, Lennix made his Broadway debut in August Wilson’s Tony nominated Radio Golf. He also starred in August Wilson’s King Hedley II at the Mark Taper Forum. His portrayal of “Malcolm X” at the Goodman Theater earned him the first Ollie Award. He received Joseph Jefferson Citations for his starring roles in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and Caught in the Act. He has directed and appeared in productions across the country including Northlight Theatre Company’s Permanent Collection at LA’s Greenway Arts Alliance, which was later remounted at The Kirk Douglas Theater. He directed the stage version of Robert Townsend’s The Five Heartbeats, which received three NAACP Theater Award Nominations and The Glass Menagerie for Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company. In 2001, he was part of the first American company to be Invited to the Royal Shakespeare Company in the production of Cymbeline. This spring he returns to the Chicago stage in two new plays: Steppenwolf’s Purpose and Congo Square’s How I Learned What I Learned.

A proud Chicagoan raised on the city’s South Side, Lennix is creating The Lillian Marcie Center and AAMPA (African American Museum of The Performing Arts), an arts complex he calls “the Black version of Lincoln Center.” In 2019 he was named Ambassador for the Prostate Cancer Foundation and brings his message of early detection through PSA’s and public speaking. He serves as Spokesman for NOBLE, the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, and is an ambassador to the National Association of Drug Court Professionals. He is on the Advisory Council of Northwestern University, his alma mater, and is a board member of Reading Rescue, a training program for educators teaching reading skills to at-risk elementary school children.

Tamara Tunie (Claudine Jasper) has a distinguished body of work that encompasses stage, television and film. Last year she was seen in the role of Cissy Houston, mother of the great American icon Whitney Houston, in I Wanna Dance with Somebody, reuniting her with Caveman’s Valentine and Eve’s Bayoudirector, Kasi Lemmons.

Ms. Tunie also triumphed on the London stage last season at the Old Vic in the critically-acclaimed production of Mike Bartlett’s The 47th, in which she starred as Kamala Harris opposite Bertie Carvel’s Donald Trump in a futuristic imagining of a presidential run-off between the two. Under the direction of Rupert Goold, Tunie received glowing notices: “Tamara Tunie is magnetizing in her performance,” “the charismatic Tamara Tunie,” “utterly convincing,” “sturdy under fire.”

One of the distinct hallmarks of Ms. Tunie’s remarkable career is a long examination of American culture and its unique social and power dynamics. Beginning with such films as Oliver Stone's Wall Street with Michael Douglas, Harold Becker's City Hall with Al Pacino, Taylor Hackford's Devil’s Advocate with Keanu Reeves and Charlize Theron, to Robert Zemeckis' Flight opposite Denzel Washington, with whom she also starred on Broadway as "Calpurnia" in Julius Caesar, Ms. Tunie’s attraction to content with depth and meaning is apparent. This thread continues with the Sundance TV series The Red Road, where Tamara starred as the challenged Native-American tribal chief “Marie Van Der Veen” opposite Jason Momoa; the BBC/Netflix international drama Black Earth Rising which scrutinizes the West's complicity in the destabilization of Africa, portraying “Under-Secretary of State, Eunice Clayton;” and AMC's Dietlandwhere she explored the underbelly of the American Beauty-Industrial Complex as “Julia,” manager of the mysterious "beauty closet.”

Ms. Tunie’s award-winning stage works include the world premiere of American Son, a searing examination of race and class in which she originated the role of “Kendra Ellis-Connor;” her Obie-Award winning turn as "Marvelous" in Danai Gurira's Familiar, which grapples with identity, assimilation, tradition and the clashing of ideals of an African-Immigrant family; and most recently she starred in the world premiere of Bernarda’s Daughters, where she portrayed matriarch “Florence Delva” with “oracular grandeur,” another contemporary play that “mines” the effects of gentrification, police brutality and what it means to be “American,”  in a Haitian-American family in Brooklyn.

Ms. Tunie first gained an international following in the role of medical examiner “Dr. Melinda Warner” with 23 seasons on Dick Wolf's legendary NBC series Law & Order: SVU. She was a series regular on the Netflix cult favorite Cowboy Bebop, and she appeared on the Apple-TV futuristic-drama See as "The Bank” opposite Jason Momoa and Alfre Woodard.  

Recurring guest-starring roles include such hit shows as Almost Family, Emergence, Better Call Saul, Blue Bloods, Billions, Alpha House, 24, Elementary, The Good Wife and Survivor’s Remorse.

Ms. Tunie is a Founder of Black Theatre United. She is Chair Emerita of the Board of Directors of Figure Skating in Harlem, a non-profit organization that supports academic excellence and instills life skills to young girls in the Harlem community through the art and discipline of figure skating, to ensure they are champions “off the Ice!” She serves on the Board of Directors at Harlem Stage/The Gatehouse, City Theatre Company in Pittsburgh, and is on the Advisory Board of Hearts of Gold, a not for profit that supports women and their children in New York City shelters, and helps them transition out of the system.

In 2005, Mayor Bloomberg awarded Ms. Tunie the "Made in New York Award" from the City of New York, for her support and commitment to Film, Television and Theater.

Ms. Tunie holds a BFA in Musical Theatre from Carnegie-Mellon University, and now serves on the Executive Board of Trustees.

Branden Jacobs-Jenkins (Playwright) is a Brooklyn-based playwright and producer and two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist. Recent theater credits include The Comeuppance (Signature Theatre), Girls (Yale Rep), Everybody (Signature Theatre), War (Yale Rep; Lincoln Center/LCT3), Gloria (Vineyard Theatre), Appropriate (Obie Award; Signature Theatre), An Octoroon (Obie Award; Soho Rep, Theatre for a New Audience) and Neighbors (The Public Theater). He was showrunner, executive producer and writer for HULU/FX’s drama series, Kindred, based on Octavia E. Butler’s groundbreaking novel. He currently teaches at Yale University and serves as Vice President of the Dramatists Guild council and on the boards of Soho Rep, Park Avenue Armory, the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize and the Dramatists Guild Foundation. Honors include a USA Artists fellowship, a Guggenheim fellowship, the MacArthur fellowship, the Windham-Campbell Prize for Drama and the inaugural Tennessee Williams Award.

Phylicia Rashad (Director) An accomplished actor and stage director, Phylicia Rashad became a household name when she portrayed Claire Huxtable onThe Cosby Show, a character whose enduring appeal has earned her numerous honors and awards. She has appeared in NBC’s This Is Us, in the popular Fox TV series Empire, in Tarell Alvin McCraney's Peabody Award-winning series David Makes Man on the OWN Network, Diarra From Detroit, The Good Fight, Little America, and The Crossover.

While television was a catalyst in the rise of Ms. Rashad's career, she has also been a force on the stage, appearing both on and Off Broadway, often in projects that showcase her musical talent such as Jelly's Last Jam, Into the Woods, Dreamgirls and The Wiz. 

In 2016, Ms. Rashad was inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame and received the 2016 Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Leading Actress in a Play for her performance as Shelah in Tarell Alvin McCraney's Head of Passes at The Public Theater. Ms. Rashad performed the role of the Duchess of Gloucester inRichard II, the 2020 Shakespeare on the Radio collaboration between The Public Theater and New York public radio station, WNYC.

On Broadway, Ms. Rashad has performed in Dominique Morriseau’s Skeleton Crew (Tony and Drama Desk Awards), August: Osage County, Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (a role that she reprised on the London stage), August Wilson’s Gem of The Ocean (Tony Award nomination) and in Shakespeare’s Cymbeline at Lincoln Center. Ms. Rashad received both the Drama Desk and the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play for her riveting performance as Lena Younger in the 2004 Broadway revival of Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in The Sun.


Among Ms. Rashad’s film credits are Creed, Creed II, Creed III, Just Wright, Tyler Perry's Good Deeds, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Is Enuf and the 2020 release, A Fall From Grace. Recent film projects include Black Box, Soul and the Netflix holiday musical, Jingle Jangle. 

Ms. Rashad made her critically acclaimed directorial debut at the Seattle Repertory Theater with August Wilson's Gem of the Ocean. She has also directed Stephen Adly Guirgis’ Our Lady of 121st Street, The Roommate, Blues for an Alabama Sky, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone (2014 NAACP Theatre Award for Best Director), Immediate Family, Fences, A Raisin in the Sun and Four Little Girls.

Respected in the academic world, Ms. Rashad has served as Dean of the Chadwick A. Boseman College of Fine Arts at Howard University since May 2021. In February 2023, she was appointed Howard University’s inaugural holder of the Toni Morrison Endowed Chair in Arts and Humanities. Ms. Rashad has conducted Master Classes at many colleges, universities and arts organizations including Howard University, New York University, Carnegie Mellon, The Black Arts Institute of the Stella Adler Studio of Acting and the prestigious Ten Chimneys Foundation. Ms. Rashad also holds the distinction of being the first recipient of the Denzel Washington Chair in Theatre at Fordham University.

Rashad’s commitment to excellence in the performing arts has been recognized by the numerous colleges and universities that have presented her with Honorary Doctorates.

Ms. Rashad has also received countless esteemed awards including the BET Honors Theatrical Arts Award, Chicago Shakespeare Theatre's Spirit of Shakespeare Award and the Inaugural Legacy Award of the Ruben Santiago Hudson Fine Arts Learning Center.

She serves on several important boards including Brainerd Institute Heritage (which is steering the restoration of Kumler Hall at the historic site of Brainerd Institute in Chester, South Carolina) and DADA, the Debbie Allen Dance Academy. Since 2017, Ms. Rashad has been the Brand Ambassador of the National Trust for Historic Preservation African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund. 

Phylicia Rashad graduated Magna Cum Laude from Howard University and is the mother of two adult children.