BWW Interviews: Actor and Director Gregg T. Daniel Talks About ELMINA'S KITCHEN at LDTE

Gregg T. Daniel has a diversified and well-known career as stage director/actor and television/film actor. His stage direction includes 2009's critically-acclaimed production of Tom Stoppard's Heroes at the Group rep and Sybyl Walker's Beneath Rippling Waters presented by the Company of Angels @ the Fremont Center in Pasadena in 2006. More recently he helmed Group rep's critically acclaimed Cobb.

In this chat, conducted by guest interviewer Steve Peterson, Daniel discusses his latest directorial work Elmina's Kitchen for Lower Depth Theatre Ensemble (LDTE), opening August 11 at the Lost Studio on La Brea in Hollywood.

What have you been up to recently?

Most recently, I performed in a production of August Wilson’s Jitney at South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa. The production transferred in its entirety to the Pasadena Playhouse for another month long run. Prior to that, I directed a critically acclaimed production of playwright Lee Blessing’s Cobb for the Group Repertory Theatre. I’ve also been a visiting Guest Director at USC’s School of Theatre. I’m returning to the school in early October to begin rehearsals with the undergraduate class on Flyin West by Pearl Cleage.

How did Elmina's Kitchen come to your attention? 

Earlier this year, I was invited to take part in a presentation at USC titled “Voices from the Black Diaspora.” We presented selected staged scenes from three international playwrights. One of the plays was Elmina's Kitchen by British playwright, Kwame Kwei-Armah. I was exhilarated by the two scenes we read from his play. The next day, I ordered a copy of the play from Amazon. After reading it, I knew our company had found its next production.  

LDTE's first production, Three Sisters After Chekov, was well received. You directed the play, and the other founding members were in the play. With Elmina's Kitchen you are directing, but the other company members are not in the production. How did that weigh in LDTE's decision to choose this play?

While I was convinced Elmina’s Kitchen was artistically right for our company, I recognized none of the six roles in the play suited the company’s founding members. This situation presented us with an interesting dilemma. Does LDTE only mount plays which has roles for its core members?  It was a difficult choice to make but in the end, the decision was unanimous.  Every one of our members felt we needed to mount this work. The compelling nature of the piece made it a story we wanted to tell.

What is the play about?

Elmina’s Kitchen deals with three generations of black men and their struggles to survive in a highly volatile area of London known as “murder mile.” I think the play is about choices. What conditions influence our choices and the ramifications of those choices. The decisions we make not only affect our immediate family, it affects our community as well as the society we live in.

What are the challenges in directing this play?

One big challenge in directing the play is to not make it feel foreign to our theatergoers even though the world it’s set in (inner city contemporary London) is culturally specific. There are amazing parrarels within the play to our own country’s troubles with gang violence, broken families and racism. 

What is the take away - - what do you want the audience be thinking about or feeling after the play as they leave the theatre?

I welcome a situation where our audience feels a variety of things when leaving the theatre. I never want to dictate how the audience should feel since aspects of the story will affect each theatergoer in a different way. I only hope they find within the material some aspect of their humanity which would make the experience resonant for them.    

The playwright currently resides and works the United States.  Any chance he might be in attendance at any point?

Yes, our playwright, Kwame Kwei-Armah, has expressed an interest in attending the West Coast premiere of his work. Kwame is currently the Artistic Director of a major regional theatre, Centerstage in Baltimore, Md. We’re trying to work out the details that would allow him to visit.

For LDTE, is there something in the planning stages for your next production?

LDTE is interested in fulfilling our commitment to developing new works, which is part of our mission statement. To that end, we’re planning a workshop in January 2013 where we will work with a playwright (s) in the Early Stages of his (their) work.  

What's up next for you?

Next up, I will be directing a staged reading of Alice Childress’s Wedding Band for the Antaeus Theatre Company’s annual Classicsfest. It’s a bittersweet story that examines the relationship between a white man and a black woman in 1914 when our country’s miscegenation laws were in effect.

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