Versatile Cheryl D. Singleton Adapts to Any Role

by Kay Bourne

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday January 12, 2009

Well into Spike Lee's breakthrough indie movie "She's Gotta Have It," (1986) lascivious heroine Nola Darling has a nightmare. Surrounding her bed where she has romped with three lovers are their girl friends ready for revenge. One of them leans towards the mattress and lights a match.

That incendiary role was played by Cheryl D. Singleton. And the Brooklyn transplant to Boston has continued her provocative ways. Cut from a flexible cloth, she is known to an unusually broad cross section of area theater-goers. To offer a few examples of her adaptability, Singleton can currently be seen in "The Sea Gull" at the American Repertory Company. As well, she is a member of Ryan Landry's Gold Dust Orphans troupe and acts regularly with Queer Soup (although she is not queer). She limned the enigmatic Dr. Condoleezza Rice in Zeitgeist Stage Company's box office smash "Stuff Happens." She has performed with the New African Company and TheatreZone. She polished her acting skills doing improvisation performances with the likes of Musical Improv Co. and Improv Boston.

In Anton Chekhov's comedy "The Sea Gull," written in 1895 and now a classic, friends and family attend an avant garde play that sends their lives into a tailspin. Singleton portrays Paulina Andreyevna, married to the estate keeper at the Russian farm where the little drama is being given a private performance. Paulina although married (and with a daughter who is rebuffing a suitor of her own), is enamored of the local doctor and is nudging him to run off with her.

"He's vulgar," Singleton says of Paulina's husband; "she's stuck with him and doesn't want to be with him." As to the doctor, "they have a past but he is convinced that his Don Juan days are over. She doesn't believe it."

Singleton is enjoying developing the juicy role under the direction of the internationally famous director Janos Szasz. Previously at A.R.T., Szasz staged Chekhov's "Uncle Vanya" (2002) which featured then Secretary of State Colin Powell's daughter Linda Powell; the production won both of them Independent Reviewers of New England (I.R.N.E.) award recognition. The Budapest film and stage director has also staged the well received "Desire Under the Elms," Mother Courage and Her Children" and "Marat/Sade" at A.R.T. The translation of "The Sea Gull" is by the late Paul Schmidt who makes a point of using colloquial American speech thereby setting his version apart from various translations by Brits that have the characters seem less down to earth than Chekhov wrote them.

Singleton slips into a Hungarian accented English as she applauds Szasz's manner of direction: "You try it," he says if you have "found things about the character you'd like to try out. He likes it, he keeps it; he doesn't, he doesn't."

Developing the character of Dr. Condeleezza Rice, Secretary of State under George W. Bush, for the David Hare's satiric "Stuff Happens" was a revelation for Singleton, she said. "I was looking for how to get the laughs but actually I gained respect for her and how she got to where she is. I learned new information about her; I didn't know she was a Democrat and switched parties (in 1982) because she didn't like President Carter's Russian policy, for one." Zeitgeist Director David Miller told her the important consideration was that Rice be "a real person. So I went for the attitude and physicality, how she carried herself but I was not trying to be a look alike. I like the challenge of difficult things," said Singleton.

Singleton, an Amherst College graduate class of '81 who has been in Boston for the past 25 years feels she has been truly fortunate in the mentors that have come along. Among them are actor Larry Coen (also a frequent actor with the Gold Dust Orphans) whom she met doing musical improv, as well as Margaret Ann Brady of the first improv troupe with whom Singleton performed and a member of Dr. Thomas DeFranz's Queer Theory theater group. "The whole improv approach has opened up my acting in general and made me feel safe to do anything." These relationships led to her performing in a number of Queer Soup's productions including Karen Malme's "Home" about a family coming to terms with the discovery that their grandfather was born a female and The Gold Dust Orphans' "Whizzin'," "Cleopatra the musical," and "Cinderella Rocks."

Though straight, Singleton fits into the gay theater sensibility she feels "because you get help along the way. You sit down and talk about the back stories to the characters you're playing. You look at it as a people situation and by acknowledging to myself that I am an outsider so I'm ready always to listen."

Following "The Sea Gull," Singleton will join the Phoenix Theater (formerly Way Theater) in collaboration with Company One to do John Kuntz and Rick Park's "The Super Heroine Monologues" in April.

The Seagull continues through February 1, 2009 at American Repertory Theatre, Loeb Drama Center, 64 Brattle Street, Cambridge, Mass. For more information visit the American Repertory Theatre website.

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