Jonah Munroe, right, has been with Pegasus Theater company since 2016. He appeared in Death on Delivery! with, from left, Ben Bryant, Chad Cline and Scott Nixon.
(Photo by Alan Abair, courtesy of Pegasus Theater)
Pegasus’ annual black-and-white show means more this year to one queer actor of color
RICH LOPEZ | Staff writer
If you’ve never experienced one of Pegasus Theatre’s “in living black-and-white” plays, add it to your list. With their clever makeup, wardrobes and sets, these plays are a remarkable sight. The noir comedy mysteries always recall the days of old films. But this year, Prime Time for Murder, written by artistic director Kurt Kleinmann and directed by Michael Serrecchia, is intended to feel different from previous shows.
“With this show, the show is cast with about half actors of color,” cast member Jonah Munroe said. “The representation here expands who we are and is reflective of our audiences in North Texas.”
This is a big deal for the out actor, who not only appears in his third black-and-white overall (including last year’s film version), but is also a member of Pegasus’ diversity and inclusion committee, where conversations were held during the pandemic about addressing equal representation on stage.
Munroe, 27, has been with a member of the Pegasus company since 2016.
Prime Time for Murder opens with previews on Dec. 29, but the black-and-white series’ official New Year’s Eve openings have become a theatrical tradition. Munroe talked about the theater’s approach to representation and what that means to him as a queer actor of color.
Dallas Voice: As part of Pegasus’ diversity and inclusion committee, what was your takeaway from your discussions during the course of the pandemic and even up to now? Jonah Munroe: We all got together and discussed the legacy of Pegasus with this understanding that over its last 35 years, Pegasus might have looked like a closed club.
How do you mean? While we do have persons of color (POC) who have performed with Pegasus, it could look as if they don’t hire actors of different backgrounds. So those optics don’t help the narrative and which we really want to change.
What was the response you got from the directors? I’m so excited and thankful that Kurt and [executive director] Barb [Weinberger] and our board really listened to our concerns. And not just that; they were also wanting to do better and work with new players to make them feel welcome, heard and seen.
How will all that reflect in Prime Time for Murder? Prime Time is set in the 1950s at a TV studio. Our main trio is portrayed by Black actors. It’s great. We have these Black people portrayed in posh positions. They’re glamorous. They are on TV. I’m excited to see Black people in black-and-white.
Kleinmann wrote the show. Did he write it with that specific intention? He did. It was a conversation we all had. We knew there had been Black people in films and Black films in the ’50s, but what would TV look like? What if Black people had their own space in television and what would that look like? That was his approach.
What’s interesting too is that this is an original story and not a theater putting on a Black or Latino show to reflect due diligence in diversity. Right? I know. That’s what’s so great: putting on an original piece in a room with the playwright who is listening to us and sees the world evolving in these conversations. This isn’t another story about Black people having to overcome. It’s not about “the struggle.”
Being the black-and-white show, how did the makeup issue play out with Black actors? Seems like you start venturing into blackface/whiteface territory. Thank you for asking. That’s important, too. We talked about that and had to make sure we weren’t being caricatures. Basically, we don’t wanna look like Sambo out there. The makeup really just brings out what’s there through accents. It didn’t have to be overthought really. My mother is a makeup artist, and we talked about how you highlight dark skin. We just had to make sure people see our faces and give them just as much visibility as our white actors would have.
Before my next question, how do you identify? I am a queer person of color and I use he/him pronouns. And I’m Black!
Can you then talk about how the intersection of Black and queer happened for you in this show? No characters are defined by their sexuality, so we make choices through our “isms.” We can kind of do whatever we want. I don’t say my character is queer, but I do represent him that way, and queer folks in the audience will get that. That’s what’s fun about it, and I think that kind of representation is important while paying respect to this particular artform.
So, simply as an actor, how are you feeling about opening night? As an actor, I just want to get on stage, tell a story and tell it well. Stepping into a comedy is important because we’ve all been down in the trenches with this Pandemi Lovato! I hope the audience is going to walk away from the show jubilant.
Prime Time for Murder runs Dec. 31-16 at the Eisemann Center. For more information and tickets, visit PegasusTheatre.org.