By Carla Thomas
This reporter met actor Carl Lumbly at the Thelma Harris Gallery in Oakland, where we discussed his starring role in “Blue Orange” at the Lorraine Hansberry Theater in San Francisco.
In the three-actor play by Joe Penhall, Lumbly plays “Christopher,” who has been admitted to the psychiatric wing in a London hospital for schizophrenia, believing he is the son of African dictator Idi Amin.
“Both doctors feel like they are coming from the right place, but are unable to see how their own cultural bias, the arrogance of science and education rule out some of the most important areas, sometimes where the solution might lay,” said Lumbly.
He describes the play as the clash of idealism and traditionalism as the therapists, portrayed by Julian Lopez-Morillas and Dan Clegg, argue over his fate. “And they really don’t understand me enough to be having either of these conversations. Authority can control a tremendous amount, but in the face of true power, authority is powerless, like the Civil Rights Movement, and thus it is my character Christopher who holds the power.”
Lumbly says the script is phenomenal writing, and he enjoys working with Director Edris Cooper-Anifowoshe. “Edris reminds me of Vonetta, she’s passionate – like a tigress, very funny and intuitive, giving us a lot of latitude.”
Lumbly, who has a recurring role on TNT’s “Southland” with Regina King, says the production is somewhat healing, since he is still mourning the loss of his accomplished wife Vonetta McGee, just 18 months ago after 25 years of marriage.
“We always saw one another as reflected in one another’s eyes. She thought a great deal of me and always gave that to me. She made me see the me that she saw,” he said. Lumbly’s wife broke barriers in the entertainment industry, portraying his spouse on the popular Cagney and Lacey TV series.
Prior to Lumbly’s successful television and film career, including roles in “South Central” and “How Stella Got Her Groove Back,” he worked as s a journalist for Associated Press.
“Hearing people’s stories and making sense of what’s coming from someone else’s’ mind and delivering to another mind, I thought it was joyful, too. Theater is similar but more active,” he said.
The son of Jamaican immigrants, he says that aside from his parents, he admires Marcus Garvey, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and President Barak Obama.
“But Danny Glover is my hero,” he added, explaining that both of them began their theatrical careers in the Bay Area prior to becoming celebrities.
“Danny is a great guy with a huge capacity to serve. I don’t think he ever really met a stranger,” Lumbly said.
Reflecting on his life and career, he said: “I am now rediscovering my passion and myself as an actor. This play is like a new beginning for me and the theatre as we rebuild, having suffered losses.”
Lumbly supports the Lorraine Hansberry’s s efforts to grow and achieve financial stability as an African American Theatre with multicultural productions. “We who feel marginalized, exceptional, normal, and abnormal, there’s a piece of dialogue for each of us, and that’s why I want everybody to occupy the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre.
“That’s the 100 percent, there is no 99 percent demarcation – there’s a place for everybody,” he said. “The theater was always there when other avenues were unavailable to us. There’s a sharing, a catharsis and a desire to bring a spirit into the room that everybody shares.”
“Blue Orange” runs through March 18 at the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre at 450 Post St. in San Francisco. For tickets go to www.LHTSF.org or call 415-474-8800.