Breaking Through the Color Barrier: Lawrence Blogs on Deathtrap

When I was called to audition for the part of Sidney Bruhl for Ira Levin’s Deathtrap my first thought was, “Why am I being considered?” followed by, “Why bother? I’m not going to get the part.” The gift was Scott Palmer—B&B’s Artistic Director and the play’s director—breaking through the color barrier and casting me.

In college I proclaimed to my friends that I would become a leading actor. Ah, the young mind! Those who were in the business and professors told me the reality of casting was bleak for brown-skinned actors unless I was willing to accept minor roles. It was enough for me to switch my major to a directing emphasis. I figured if I couldn’t act, I would direct. A renewed mission in life hurtled me toward producing plays which were truly color blind.

When I arrived in Los Angeles by way of San Diego I experienced the truth about the industry firsthand. Brown actors did not sell tickets and were usually relegated to characters with dark intents, victims or spear carriers. Times are a-changing. Very slowly. I still get calls for roles like Thug #2, Bouncer or Big Man. After twenty years I can finally feel a color shift in part due to brave theatre companies like Bag&Baggage. My hope is this: theatre companies will cast actors who can fill roles because of an emotional connection to the character and not the color of their skin, size of their body, or gender identity.

Honestly, being considered as Sidney Bruhl was not on my radar since I could never imagine myself in the role of a Michael Caine or John Woods lead. But here I am six weeks later playing one of the most complex characters derived from the brilliant mind of Ira Levin. I fell in love with the character because his pompous arrogance and cutting wit hides a a deep desire to be loved, admired and praised. Coming into the world of the play he is truly at the end of his rope leaving an 18-year trail of flops after his one-hit wonder, The Murder Game. This desperation and unhappiness leads him to do some unspeakable things like… well, you’ll have to find out yourself. #nospoilers