Atlanta actress comes full circle in ‘Blues for an Alabama Sky’

THEATER PREVIEW

“Blues for an Alabama Sky”

Twentieth anniversary of the Alliance Theatre's world premiere. Through May 10. $30-$85. 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays; 2:30 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Sundays (no 7:30 p.m. show on May 10). Alliance Theatre, 1280 Peachtree St. N.E., Atlanta. 404-733-4650, www.alliancetheatre.org.

Longtime Atlanta actress Crystal Fox did her first play at the Alliance Theatre when she was a 16-year-old performing arts student at Atlanta's Northside High School, now North Atlanta High School.

And 20 years ago, when the Alliance debuted Atlanta playwright Pearl Cleage's "Blues for an Alabama Sky" with Phylicia Rashad in the lead role of Angel, the veteran actress asked Fox to be her understudy.

Now Fox, 51, has the lead role in “Blues,” and it feels like she’s come full circle.

“I felt honored,” Fox said on being selected to understudy Rashad. “From that time, she has been a friend and mentor.”

Fox identifies with Angel because of her own struggles in the arts. The play is set in 1930s New York during the Harlem Renaissance. Angel is a performer who is aging out of the business. “She is trying to have these little sexy roles and she’s wondering if she still has it,” Fox said. “Show business is tough on older women. I love theater because all ages are present on the stage.”

Fox has been in several theater productions, including Cleage's "What I Learned in Paris" and August Wilson's "Fences." She played a police officer in the popular TV show "In the Heat of the Night" and currently stars in Tyler Perry's hit nighttime soap "The Haves and the Have Nots" on OWN. Fox plays Hanna Young, a deeply religious maid who is in constant conflict with her vixen daughter, Candace, played by Tika Sumpter.

Fox sat down with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution last week before a rehearsal for “Blues.”

Q: What do you want people to know about the play?

A: It's timeless. Twenty years later, the emotional lives, the value of relationships, it doesn't matter what year or what time.

Q: Do people still ask you about your role in “In the Heat of the Night”?

A: Yes.They are my first fan base. To be able to get these jobs while I lived in Atlanta … People have no idea how hard it is to get a job. To have people recognize me, if not by my face they recognize me by my voice.

Q: How has “The Haves and the Have Nots” evolved?

A: Tyler had never done a one-hour drama. He asked us to stick with him. We had to get a rhythm. We were finding it together.

Q: What is the question you get most from fans of the show?

A: A lot of people want to know if Candace and I get along, which we do. I love my cast mates. I love that Mr. Perry likes us. He told us, speaking of Hanna's close relationship with her grown son Benny, played by Tyler Lepley, "I like you two." I think we remind him of his relationship with his mother.

Q: What do you want people to know about Hanna?

A: That domestic work and non money does not mean poor. I wanted to show the strength of blue-collar workers, the femininity. We are strong, sexual and spiritual … I have nine ministers in my family. People want to make you holier-than-thou. I fight for that because my fans want to pigeonhole me and keep me in a place where they like me. But that's not real life. I wanted to make a real person that I have not seen on TV. I wanted to show her natural hair and what we go through as black women.

Q: What would people be surprised to know about you?

A: I like to bowl. I have a motorcycle; I'm a biker chick now. I've scuba-dived; I've sky-dived. I love to cook.