A ‘Life-Affirming’ Journey: Playwright Samuel A. Simon and Actor Chuk Obasi Discuss ‘The Actual Dance’

Obasi performs Simon's one-man, one-act play June 23 and 24 at the DC Black Theatre & Arts Festival

“It is what I am supposed to do in my life,” The Actual Dance playwright Samuel A. Simon told me in a phone interview. He was speaking about the play he developed and has performed that began when he and his wife Susan received the diagnosis that she had Stage 3 breast cancer.

Actor Chuk Obasi and Playwright Samuel A. Simon. Photo courtesy of 'The Actual Dance.'
Actor Chuk Obasi and Playwright Samuel A. Simon. Photo courtesy of ‘The Actual Dance.’

The Actual Dance is a one-act, one-hour, one-actor play about the transformative power of love. It will be produced at the 2019 DC Black Theatre & Arts Festival. The solo performance at the DC Black Theatre & Arts Festival features Manhattan-based actor Chuk Obasi.

In a recent phone interview, Obasi noted that he began taking on the role of Sam in The Actual Dance in 2016. He was drawn by the opportunity “to re-imagine the telling of Simon’s story after having previously viewed his performance several times prior.”

The Actual Dance is a powerful piece. It is a universal topic. It says something about humanity.” At the DC Black Theatre and Arts Festival, audiences will witness an adaptation of The Actual Dance in which they can “project their own lives upon the issues raised,” added Obasi. “It can speak to their own experiences. They can relate to it.”

In our conversations, playwright Simon spoke passionately that “The Actual Dance is core to me as my wife’s longtime love partner. I feared I was going to lose her. I had to find the strength to do what I didn’t think I could do even as I thought my heart was going to break.” Over time and with survivorship, “I have learned is not only a journey for the person with the cancer, it is also for all of those who exist in the circle of love for the cancer survivor.” 

Choreographed and directed by Kimani Fowlin and performed with live original music for violin and guitar composed by Eli Katz Zoller, The Actual Dance is a “journey through a husband’s eyes, soul and heart,” noted Simon.

As for the meaning of its title, The Actual Dance is a metaphor, explained Simon. It is the nightmare he and his wife Susan were living through together. “The ritual of holding the one you love as they take their last breath is real to me and I think many of the love partners of people who have or have had cancer.”

Chuk Obasi in 'The Actual Dance.' Photo by Emily Hewitt Photography.
Chuk Obasi in ‘The Actual Dance.’ Photo by Emily Hewitt Photography.

Simon made clear that The Actual Dance was told not through a patient’s perspective but from the viewpoint of a husband and love partner. Simon indicated that he was not only a caregiver but a love partner on the journey with his wife Susan. He went on to say that on the journey, “she was the stoic and grounded one.”

For Obasi, taking on the solo role as Sam in The Actual Dance will bring something new even “as the words are the same, a play about love.” Obasi noted that he is younger than Sam, and from a different background. Obasi also “has a dance background and moves about the stage during the performance with an energy different than Sam’s.”

Both playwright Simon and actor Obasi consider The Actual Dance as “life-affirming.” They hope audiences will “come prepared to be changed and see life differently.” There will be a talk-back after each performance.

Asked what audiences have been saying about the production, Simon provided one in particular. An audience member, during a production in Indianapolis, said, “I saw your play Thursday evening and it has changed forever how I will relate to my wife. Thank You.”

So be ready for a special production about a tough matter; cancer and how people, a loving couple, respond to it. It promises to be an engaging theater piece, one with music and movement meant to inspire. While told from one man’s perspective, The Actual Dance is aimed at all audiences. After all, who among us has not already been touched by cancer or will be in the future?

Obasi made the connections to cancer personal for him. He dedicates his performances of The Actual Dance “to the memory of his friend Bobby Kashif Cox, lost to cancer but ever present in spirit.”

This is no spoiler alert for the love story that is The Actual Dance; it has a happy ending.

The Actual Dance plays Sunday, June 23, 2019, at 5 p.m. and Monday, June 24 at 7 p.m. at Anacostia Playhouse – 2020 Shannon Place SE, Washington, DC. Purchase tickets online.

Note: Obasi will serve as Artist-in-Residence this summer at the Caribbean Museum for the Arts in St. Croix, US Virgin Islands. He is also a recipient of the 2019 Zelda Fichandler Award.

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David Siegel
David Siegel is a freelance theater reviewer and features writer whose work appears on DC Metro Theater Arts, ShowBiz Radio, in the Connection Newspapers and the Fairfax Times. He is a judge in the Helen Hayes Awards program. He is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and volunteers with the Arts Council of Fairfax County. David has been associated with theater in the Washington, DC area for nearly 30 years. He served as Board President, American Showcase Theater Company (now Metro Stage) and later with the American Century Theater as both a member of the Executive Board and as Marketing Director. You can follow David's musings on Twitter @pettynibbler.

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