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Stephen McKinley Henderson of FENCES Featured in the New York Times

June 9, 2010

A Stalwart in the Club of “Essential” Wise Men

He didn’t realize it at the time, but the actor Stephen McKinley Henderson first auditioned for August Wilson on a street corner in Pittsburgh in 1990, seven years before they first worked together on the Wilson play “Jitney.” Mr. Henderson was researching the city’s Hill District for a role in Wilson’s “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone,” and a chance encounter with one of the playwright’s sisters led to an introduction.

“Before August would talk, though, he wanted to know if I was for real,” Mr. Henderson recalled in an interview last month. Wilson then asked if he knew the firebrand poet Amiri Baraka. “I said I knew Amiri. He said, ‘Do you know some of the poems?’ So I started reciting a poem by Amiri called ‘Black Art,’ and August started nodding, smiling, saying, ‘Oh yeah, man, that’s a good one, that’s a good one.’“And then we talked about the blues, our lives, his plays, and three cigarettes later, I think a pretty firm connection was made.”

Wilson, who died in 2005, eventually brought Mr. Henderson into a small fellowship of actors who have earned accolades for mastering a particular Wilson archetype: supporting male characters who act as conscience, confidants or clairvoyants in his 10-play cycle about the black experience in 20th-century America — plays that include “Fences,” in which Mr. Henderson is portraying one of those men, Jim Bono, in the current Broadway revival at the Cort Theater.

Mr. Henderson has been nominated for a Tony Award for best featured actor in a play for the performance. It is his first Tony nomination, but the 15th in that category from the 12 original productions and revivals of Wilson plays on Broadway, starting with “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” in 1984. Just last year Roger Robinson won the Tony for featured actor as Bynum in “Joe Turner.”

Alongside the main characters of his 10 plays, who tend to be black men in search of justice in the world, Wilson created a lineage of male friends and relatives who provide a century’s worth of commentary about black life since slavery. From Bynum in “Joe Turner” and Jim Bono to Lymon in the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Piano Lesson” and Sterling in Wilson’s last original Broadway play, “Radio Golf,” the characters offer pungent reflections on free black men searching for work, love and hope in America.

Read the full article from the New York Times at


FENCES is now playing at the Cort Theatre (138 West 48th Street).
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For more information on FENCES, please visit:
http://www.FencesOnBroadway.com <http://www.FencesOnBroadway.com>  

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