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Many people might know Condola Rashad as the daughter of actress Phylicia Rashad, who played Claire Huxtable on The Cosby Show, and NFL sportscaster Ahmad Rashad. The 26-year-old got Tony Award nominations for her performances in Stick Fly and The Trip to Bountiful. Now she takes on her first lead role on Broadway in the new production of Romeo & Juliet. Her Romeo is Orlando Bloom of Lord of the Rings fame.
Condola Rashad spoke with Tell Me More guest host Celeste Headlee about making the iconic role her own.
On whether interracial romance is a major theme
No, it's not, but it's really cool that people think that because it kind of just shows how far we still have to go. And even we've gotten to a place where it's very P.C. to say, 'It's 2013, we don't care.' But then mind you, when we do an interracial version of it, that's often a huge topic, even though we don't hammer that in. In our production, it's not about it being interracial. It just so happens that I'm Juliet and I'm a black woman, and he's Romeo and he's a white man. But that's not the reason for the feud. That's not why the love is forbidden. So it's very interesting to see how people respond to that.
I won't get into it too much, but when I first started playing this role of Juliet, I received quite a few nasty tweets, you know. I wasn't angry about it, but it really did wake me up in realizing, you know, there are people who really are not going to be comfortable with this.
On performing Shakespeare while black
Black people have been performing Shakespeare for years. ... But I do believe that there are certain things that black people are taught, whether it is from their own people or other people. They're taught to believe that there are certain things that are just not for them, and that it's not their reality, it's not their world. But it could be. Shakespeare is for everybody.
On finding laughs in tragedy
I think often there can be productions of it where it's played as a tragedy from the very beginning, and that's not our production. Our production, the way we go about it is: In order for anybody in the audience to feel the full impact of these young lovers' death at the end – sorry, spoiler alert, but I think a lot of us know what happens – you have to be able to fall in love with their lives first. You have to be excited to watch them live in order to really feel sad when they die. And so our first act is basically a romantic comedy. It's not false, it's not something we're putting on top of the text to make it funnier. But if you actually just look at the text, it actually is quite hilarious. Some boy just jumps into this girl's garden. There's nothing perfect about that. It's romantic in a very clumsy way.
On Juliet's suicide
What I kind of really focused on with Juliet was: Why does she really kill herself? What is it that she thinks she'll never have if she doesn't go with Romeo? And it's love. And it's not that her parents don't love her, but she doesn't feel that. She doesn't know that because of the disconnect that she has with her mother. Her father has already told her what's going to happen if she doesn't marry Paris. He says, 'Graze where you will, you will not house with me.' And whether he meant it or not, children they take things in like that. ... So you tell a 13-year-old girl that, that's what she's going to believe. And I was thinking about a lot of LGBT youth, and what they go through, and what it is that they feel, and why they're driven to certain ends of their own because they don't feel that they have a way out.
On being raised by Phylicia Rashad
She's tough but she's very, very loving, and very kind, and also very gentle. But she's tough, and you know, I'm very thankful for the way that I was raised. When I was born, that was right smack in the middle of The Cosby Show. But what I remember is my mother took me with her. ... She exposed me to the world in such a way where I was included. And I didn't feel like she chose her career over me. It was very important for her — for me to see her as a professional so that I could appreciate it and see how it actually did help our whole family. ... And also what I remember is what a lot of other kids remember: is coming home and their mother cooking dinner for her family. And that's what my mom did, too, as busy as she was. ... She makes a wicked shrimp gumbo. And also she has the best peach blueberry cobbler.
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