Out actor André De Shields could easily boast an unusually illustrious career. Instead, he simply describes his life’s work as markedly eclectic.
Over the years he’s acted in countless classic and contemporary works and appeared in the original productions of Broadway musicals “The Full Monty,” “Ain’t Misbehavin” and “The Wiz.” In the early ‘70s, he even choreographed Bette Midler’s backup dancers, the Harlettes. But what has been glaringly missing from the De Shield’s resume — until now — is a part penned by the late August Wilson, the foremost African-American playwright of his time and one of the greatest American playwrights ever.
“It’s not that I didn’t want to do an August Wilson play. I did,” says De Shields... “But theater is a director’s game. I had to wait until I was chosen...” Story continued inside
In the prologue to "King Hedley II," the searing and soaring August Wilson play enjoying a revival at Arena Stage, a character called Stool Pigeon describes people who "don't even know the story of how they got from tit to tat." But "the story's been written," he adds. "All that's left now is the playing out."
André De Shields, the exceptional Baltimore-born actor playing Stool Pigeon in this revival, relishes the image of predestination.
"It reverberates in me like a pebble in a still pool of water every time I say that line," he says. Story continued inside
"Invincibility and invisibility go hand in hand in the late August Wilson’s “King Hedley II," now showing on the Arena Stage. Set in 1980s Pittsburgh, race and the absence of privilege unfold at the Southwest Waterfront’s beautiful fine arts venue.
With only six characters on a stark concrete stage, Pittsburgh’s Hill District setting put each patron in the intimate position of a community onlooker. A wife, mother, street prophet, childhood friend, swindler and title character King Hedley II himself represent the community. Trying to make a life for themselves, the cast is gripped throughout the three-hour play by love, regret, death and blind ambition."
"... There are several key characters who offer advice to King Hedley II. One of the most brilliant performances is carried out by Stool Pigeon, played by the incomparable Andre De Shields. Hedley, in his often chaotically furious monologues, curses the world around him, which doesn’t consider him a worthy addition to society. A prophetic and wise older neighborhood man, Pigeon urges Hedley to realize his own worth and to look inside himself for the answers to life.."
King Hedley II is a ruthlessly honest examination of
the profound –- and often untold –- costs of prejudice
By Kate Wingfield • Feb 19, 2015
Operatic in rhythm and architecture, it makes sense that August Wilson’s King Hedley II is part of a cycle, even if it is of the spoken word, versus the sung. Where Wagner’s Ring Cycle explores a world of troubled Norse Gods and the humans they engage as lovers and pawns, Wilson’s ten-play Pittsburgh Cycle is utterly human, ground out of the African-American community of the hardscrabble Hill District. Story continued inside
"...The final member of the crew who shares the backyard where all the action takes place is Stool Pigeon (André De Shields), a scruffy, Bible-quoting, newspaper-hoarding spiritual commentator, who offers constant perspective on the past, on the future, and on humanity."
And "... most often lightens the mood of the Hill District's menacing streets is De Shields' Stool Pigeon, dressed in raggedy clothes and hilarious in his addresses to the inhabitants of the District and to the Almighty."
"...The moral center of the play is Stool Pigeon, whose prophetic voice and biblical citations are always spot-on-albeit peppered with colorful language one is not likely to hear from the pulpit. (It's not every day you hear someone refer to the Almighty, in all awe and reverence, as "a bad m-----f-----"). André de Shields, decked out in a shock of Frederick Douglass-like grey hair (courtesy of the production's masterful wig designer, Charles G. LaPointe), holds the stage with a uniquely spiritual authority."
Finally, we have André De Shields. His outstanding performance as Stool Pigeon—the “King Hedley” edition of the mystic soothsayer-chorus that is a mainstay in Wilson’s dramatic works—provides not only comic relief.
Stool Pigeon’s deeply-held, if erratic, spiritual beliefs, plus his primitive understanding that only a knowledge of the real world can set you free, transforms him into an eerie parody of Cassandra, the prophetess who accurately predicts the future but whose prophecies no one believes. It’s a wonderful portrayal, moving, colorful and funny all at the same time.
WASHINGTON — Forty years ago, André De Shields starred in Broadway’s “The Wiz,” playing the title role before Richard Pryor in the 1978 movie co-starring Diana Ross and Michael Jackson.
Like De Shields, “The Wiz” has its roots in Baltimore, where it opened Oct. 21, 1974, at the Morris A. Mechanic Theatre before moving to Broadway’s Majestic Theatre Jan. 5, 1975.
Sitting in the audience for his first Broadway play was future theater director Timothy Douglas. “When André De Shields burst onto that stage, I do believe that was the seed of my lifelong commitment in the theater being planted,” says Douglas, who is repaying the favor by casting de Shields as Stool Pigeon in “King Hedley II” at Arena Stage from Feb. 6 through March 8. Story continued inside
Playbill.com's series features actors commenting on their recent theatregoing experiences, what productions they're looking forward to and more.
What show recently impressed you?
Just prior to the transitioning of 2014 into 2015, I experienced Theatre For A New Audience's production of Christopher Marlowe's Tamburlaine, Parts I and II, starring John Douglas Thompson in the titular role, and directed by Michael Boyd. I've been a fierce fan of John's ever since he played Edgar opposite my Lear and thereby making me a more fearless actor in the 2006 production of Shakespeare's King Lear at the Classical Theatre of Harlem, directed by Alfred Preisser. In the interim I've witnessed to varying levels of uncustomary satisfaction his Othello, his Emperor Jones and his Louis Armstrong. However, it wasn't until he embodied in mythic proportion the slaughter-thirsty butcher Tamburlaine that I realized that I was in the presence of a master. It was a teaching moment regarding the sensual appeal of misguided heroism. As a matter of meta-thought, I believe that John Douglas Thompson may very be creating a new archetype: The Errant Genius. Story continued inside
Timothy Douglas, who collaborated with August Wilson on the world premiere of Radio Golf and has directed many of the late playwright's works, will helm a production of King Hedley II at Washington D.C's Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater, runs February 6th throughMarch 8th, 2015 in the Fichandler Stage. .
Bowman Wright stars as King, the returning ex-convict with seven years of prison haunting him. Wright, who was last seen at Arena Stage as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in The Mountaintop, is joined by returning Arena Stage cast members E. Faye Butler (Smokey Joe’s Café, Pullman Porter Blues, Oklahoma!) as Ruby and KenYatta Rogers (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom) as Mister. Making their Arena Stage debuts are Two-Time Tony Award nominee André De Shields (Broadway’s The Full Monty, Ain’t Misbehavin’) as Stool Pigeon, Jessica Frances Dukes (Playwrights Horizons’ Bootycandy) as Tonya and Michael Anthony Williams (Round House’s Two Trains Running) as Elmore.
"Set in the 1980s Hill District of Pittsburgh, the ninth installment of Pulitzer Prize winner Wilson's acclaimed play cycle examining Black America follows a scarred ex-convict who struggles to turn his life around and lock away his past," press notes state.