The last time The Great MacDaddy was performed, acting veterans like Phylicia Rashad, Lynn Whitfield and the late Al Freeman, Jr. shared the stage.
Now, 35 years later, actors Khalil Kain and J. Kyle Manzay have stepped in to fill their shoes.
It’s undoubtedly a challenge to take on the first major revival of a play that was originally staged in 1974, but that wasn’t a deterrent for Kain, Manzay and director Alfred Preisser.
“We thought, if we don’t do it now, we might never do it,” Priesser told theGrio on the play’s opening night. “But we believed in the play and we believed it deserved to get heard.”
That sentiment was palpable once the actors took the stage. A high energy and musically exciting production, The Great MacDaddy tells the story of the young, boastful MacDaddy, a man who sets off on a journey during the Prohibition Era to find the person who holds the “secret formula” to his father’s illegal booze fortune. In a series of encounters with some interesting characters along the way, including some fabled heroes of African-American storytelling, The Great MacDaddy learns more about himself and what’s important in life.
“There’s a lot going on in this piece that needs to be felt,” Kain said of the abstractly-told story. “It’s not so much a play as a ritual.”
Priesser echoed the same thought, saying, “I’m more concerned that people are entertained and stimulated by the material than I am about what it all means.”
And while the play can be confusing for theatergoers at some points in the story, the success of the performance is that the audience gets it in the end.
“It all comes down to, well if we connect with each other, perhaps some of our problems can be avoided or discussed,” Manzay said.
Priesser explained, “This is an epic quest, looking for what you think you need. And what you really need is to have dinner with the people you love, look them in the eye, and have a moment.”
It’s a message that surpasses time and is probably most understood by one of the play’s main stars, Charles Weldon, who was also in the original production of the The Great MacDaddy in the ’70s.
“The themes are reoccurring,” he said. He added that he enjoyed the opportunity to participate in the revival and watch everything “come full circle.”
The Great MacDaddy will be making its final curtain call Sunday, December 16 at New York’s 777 Theatre.
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