“The kids in Bristol are sharp as a pistol
When they do the Bristol Stomp
Really somethin’ when the joint is jumpin’
When they do the Bristol Stomp”
The lyrics above are from “The Bristol Stomp,” a catchy little ditty by Philly’s own bandstand group, The Dovells. That’s about all I knew of picturesque and friendly Bristol, Pennsylvania. I certainly never expected to find edgy, progressive theatre there — that is, until I was given an invitation to attend “An Act of God,” now showing at the Bristol Riverside Theater and starring Kim Wayans. “An Act of God” is an irreverent play about our lord and savior, and why she’s peeved with mankind. The show delves into material that skews toward LGBTQ-plus sensibilities. In one scene, for example, God talks about the garden of Eden and how she originally created Adam and Steve until she was forced to make Steve transition and become a woman.
I had the chance to speak with the charming Wayans about her role as an ally in the LGBTQ community and life growing up as a member of the comedic Wayans clan (along with siblings Keenen Ivory, Damon, Marlon and Shawn to name a few). Kim was an original member of the hit show, “In Living Color,” playing iconic roles such as Tracy Chapman, Crystal Waters and my favorite, the Whitney Houston/Janet Jackson crossover. A full powerhouse, she has worked as a producer, writer and director on several shows, including brother Damon’s “My Wife and Kids.” Wayans has had several recurring television roles as well — Allison on the Cosby Show spinoff “A Different World,” Tonia Harris on the LL Cool J vehicle “In the House” — and several film roles, most recently the mother in the lesbian drama “Pariah.”
PGN: Where do you originally hail from?
KW: We’re from New York City.
PGN: I read that your mother was a homemaker and social worker, and your father was a supermarket manager, which, with all those boys, seems like a smart way to keep them fed.
KW: Yeah, it is. Plenty of corn flakes!
PGN: And there were seven of you all together, correct?
KW: No, there’s 10 of us altogether.
PGN: [Laughing] Well, I read seven on the internet, so I guess the internet is wrong. But really, 10? Wow, you have me beat. My grandmother had eight kids.
KW: That’s a pretty big number too, especially by today’s standards.
PGN: Who was funnier, your mother or father?
KW: My mother; she’s hilarious. She’s naturally funny, especially when she’s not trying to be. She just has a great sense of humor and a great delivery. I remember when Keenen dropped out of college and came home and told her that he wanted to be a stand-up comedian, she said, “What? You a comedian? You’ve never even made me crack a smile!” My father’s funny but in an annoying kind of way. His idea of funny is waiting until you’re finished getting ready for a date and then messing your hair up; that’s hysterical to him.
PGN: What were you like as a kid?
KW: I was a little desperado, trying to be involved in all the community productions that I could get into. I’d make my costumes at home and then crash the shows. [Laughing] I couldn’t afford the classes and had never been to rehearsals. I would just show up, get on stage and start performing! I think I was a little touched in the head. I just was doing what I wanted to do, and there was no stopping me.
PGN: Where are you in the rankings?
KW: I’m in the middle. Maybe that’s my problem! Though it probably doesn’t matter in a family that big.
PGN: Who was a favorite teacher?
KW: My favorite teacher was Silvia Clark, who has since moved on. She left this world a few years ago. I just adored her and stayed in touch with her my entire life. She lived on a farm way upstate New York and whenever I came home to New York, I would make the five-hour drive to see her and take her to lunch. I’d keep her up to date on what was going on with me and everyone. I just loved her. She was an amazing teacher. I have a series of children’s books that are dedicated to her. She’s a teacher that made a huge difference in my life.
PGN: What did she teach?
KW: She was my fifth-grade teacher, so she taught everything. You know how they do it in elementary school.
PGN: I just rewatched one of my favorite skits of yours, “Rhythmless Nation,” and was chuckling through the whole thing.
KW: Oh no! Yeah, those were fun to do at the time. Looking back, I wouldn’t do things the same. We weren’t trying to be mean spirited or hurtful, but some of the skits poked fun at people in a way I wouldn’t do now. We were young and trying to be funny in whatever way we could.
PGN: Who was/is your favorite celeb to imitate?
KW: Grace Jones. She’s just so wild and fun. She’s always been an incredible artist and trendsetter who’s never really gotten her due. So many of the greats have borrowed and stolen from her. I went to a screening of her documentary “Bloodlight and Bami” last year and it was wonderful. She’s in her 70s and it was like, oh my God, she looks amazing. She’s an awesome woman.
PGN: So you’ve played a number of gay icons such as Crystal Waters and Tracy Chapman, and you were featured in a drama that has become a classic in the lesbian community, “Pariah.” Pariah was one of your first dramatic roles if I’m not mistaken.
KW: Yes, it was my first and only dramatic role.
PGN: I remember you as a killer on “Criminal Minds” with McKenzie Phillips. I loved that episode.
KW: Oh yeah! That’s right. In fact, “Criminal Minds” came about because Janine Sherman Barrois saw me in “Pariah,” and she wrote that episode just for me.
PGN: That’s amazing!
KW: Isn’t it? She’s a wonderful woman, and she’s garnering a lot of well-deserved success right now. I’m very, very happy for her. She’s working as a writer and producer on “Claws” and an upcoming project on Madam C.J. Walker.
PGN: What did you take away from working on “Pariah,” and did you face any backlash?
KW: I’m happy to say that I didn’t get any negative feedback. It was more people telling me that they appreciated me humanizing Audrey, the character I played. It allowed them not to see her as a monster, but as someone who was a misguided and ignorant woman who thought she was doing what was best for her child. A lot of people from the community will come up to me and say that Audrey was their mother or father and that this allowed them to see their parents for the first time through a different lens. Personally, it was an incredible experience on many levels. It was a beautiful film and Dee Rees did a marvelous job writing and directing. When you’re involved in something that beautiful and profound it changes you. Not in terms of my relationship or thoughts about the gay community, I’ve always been supportive and believed that people should be whoever they are and love whomever they choose, but in terms of being attached to a project that was important and eye-opening and moving on so many levels.
PGN: I want to touch on your book series, “Amy Hodgepodge”? What prompted the books?
KW: I’m in an interracial marriage and several of my nieces and nephews are biracial. One of my little nieces, in particular, was sharing her experience at her new school, and that’s what fueled the idea for the series. So it was inspired by my little niece who’s in college now. We wanted books that told universal stories and taught about important things in life, but that reflected diversity. For the longest time, we didn’t tell her the book was based on her because we didn’t want her to get a big head.
PGN: That’s funny, and speaking of funny, let’s talk about your current project where you play an irreverent God. Your dad was a Jehovah’s Witness, were you as well at some point?
KW: I was not. My dad went to the hall and did his thing, but my mom was a nonbeliever, so we weren’t a part of that. Though I knew his beliefs, because he was my dad and I grew up with him, it was never imposed on us.
PGN: How did you get involved with the show?
KW: The director, Susan Atkinson, specifically wanted me to do the role and contacted my agent. I read the script and thought it was hilarious and relevant. I did a one-woman show a while ago called, “A Handsome Woman Retreats,” which had a lot to do with spirituality, including my efforts to handle my panic attacks by going on a 10-day silent retreat to get to the cause of my anxiety. This show hit on a lot of topics that are also of concern for me, so I agreed to do it.
PGN: How long did you have to prepare? The show was almost all you.
KW: Whoo! It’s no joke, and I only had three weeks to get ready. It’s a wordy play, and they’re not my words, they’re David Javerbaum’s brilliant words filled with thees and thous to make it even harder.
PGN: The play touches on a lot of progressive subjects, from abortion to gun control, and of course LGBTQ issues. I love when you spoke about there not being a God-given right to carry arms, stating there was no bible passage AK-47. What are some of your favorite lines or segments from the show?
KW: Hmmm, there are so many. The whole rant on God not blessing America anymore is pretty good. And, of course, the lines telling people in sports and showbiz that she could care less what team or person wins so stop thanking God like she had anything to do with it. That she had more important things to do than make sure that Tom Brady completed a pass. [Laughing] And I crack up at the segment on Abraham and Isaac! It’s so twisted! It just highlights what’s wrong with so much dogma. And God is so petty in her enjoyment of his misery in the scene.
PGN: What was the most difficult part of doing the show, other than the dialogue?
KW: Well, the dialogue was a killer; there was so much to lock in and, tonally, you have to find the rhythm in the humor and ways to make the dark parts funny too.
PGN: Well, you succeeded at both. I thoroughly enjoyed the show.