This week Playbill catches up with Obie Award winner April Matthis, who is currently making her Broadway debut as Grace in the first Broadway revival of August Wilson's The Piano Lesson. Matthis joins an all-star cast that includes Samuel L. Jackson, Danielle Brooks, and John David Washington. Tony nominee LaTanya Richardson Jackson directs the play—part of Wilson's Century Cycle—that is set in Pittsburgh's Hill District in 1936 and follows a brother and sister who are embroiled in a battle over a family heirloom piano carved with the faces of their ancestors.
Matthis plays Grace, the girlfriend of Boy Willie, who wants to sell his family's piano. In her two scenes on stage, she immediately grabs the audience and brings lightness and laughter to the family drama.
Matthis has been seen Off-Broadway in Toni Stone (Obie Award), Help, Fairview, Lear, Antlia Pneumatica, Iowa, Funnyhouse of a Negro, Baldwin/Buckley at Cambridge, Gatz, Everyone’s Fine With Virginia Woolf, Measure for Measure, The Sound and the Fury, and Fondly, Collette Richland. Her screen credits include The Good Fight, Evil, New Amsterdam, and Fugitive Dreams.
Below she talks about finally moving from downtown to uptown.
What is your typical day like now?
I get up and help see my kid off to school, then I slowly clean up and make myself breakfast while listening to WNYC, or maybe meet my husband for coffee after drop off. The rest of the day I check emails, run errands, maybe nap, have some family time, then head off to the theatre.
there any parts of your role or the play that seem particularly
poignant/relevant following the events of the past two years?
The prospect of having a wild night out feels particularly precious during a time when it’s been so hard to feel carefree, careless.
Tell me a bit about working with LaTanya Richardson Jackson, the first woman to direct an August Wilson play on Broadway.
The first day of rehearsals, LaTanya took me aside and told me she wanted to make sure Grace was a full person with her own life outside the two scenes we’re given. A lot of the work was reading the play from a woman’s perspective and allowing the female characters to take up space as people with interiority and complexity. That was true even for the child actors playing Maretha. She wanted us all to be seen and heard.
this time of reflection and re-education regarding BIPOC artists and
artistry, particularly in the theatre, what do you want people (those in
power, fellow artists, audiences) to be aware of? What do you want them
to consider further?
That diversity, equity, and inclusion is not just a box to check, but a huge shift toward changing who the American theatre is for and who makes it. And, we can’t really change without addressing the economic piece. Theatre artists need to be paid what they’re worth, and theatres need to make tickets affordable for working class folks.
What, if anything, did you learn about yourself during the past two years that you didn't already know?
One aspect the pandemic itself brought out in me has been my keen interest and appreciation of science—particularly the scholarship and guidance from virologists and immunologists—and how that knowledge gets disseminated into public policy.
Do you have any other stage or screen projects in the works?
I recently appeared in Brooke Berman’s independent feature debut, Ramona at Midlife, currently in post-production.
What organization would you recommend people learn more about or donate to during this time of change?
United to Learn Dallas. I come from a family of educators, and this organization has really been on the ground helping teachers impacted by the effects of climate change in that community.