This week Playbill catches up with Manoel Felciano, who was most recently seen on Broadway as Prosecutor Horace Gilmer in the stage adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird. A Tony nominee for his performance as Tobias in the 2005 revival of Sweeney Todd, Felciano's other Broadway credits include Amélie, Disaster!, Brooklyn, Jesus Christ Superstar, and Cabaret, while his Off-Broadway resume features By the Way, Meet Vera Stark; The Secret Life of Bees; The Changeling; Trumpery; Much Ado About Nothing; and Shockheaded Peter. Regionally, the actor has performed in productions of Twelfth Night, The Tempest, Much Ado About Nothing, The Exorcist, Clybourne Park, Round and Round the Garden, Caucasian Chalk Circle, November, At Home at the Zoo, Elektra, Ragtime, Three Sisters, Sunday in the Park with George, and the world premiere of Mothers and Sons.
Felciano is currently co-starring in Red Bull Theater's world premiere of Jeffrey Hatcher's adaptation of Ben Jonson's The Alchemist, which officially opens November 21 at New World Stages for a limited engagement through December 19. Directed by Jesse Berger, the comedy also features Jacob Ming-Trent, Jennifer Sánchez, Nathan Christopher, Stephen DeRosa, Carson Elrod, Teresa Avia Lim, Louis Mustillo, Reg Rogers, and Allen Tedder.
What is your typical day like now?
For a while I was doing double duty, so I would get up, take my daughter to school, walk to Manhattan Plaza, where I would sit outside and drill my lines for The Alchemist, before rehearsing the rest of the day. Then I'd grab a bite and head up to Columbia, where I was directing the MFA students in The Cherry Orchard(s), then go home and collapse into bed. It was intense, but after such a long hiatus, I was grateful to be back rehearsing.
Can you describe how it felt to be back in a rehearsal room on the first day you and the cast assembled?
I felt a sense of deep, humble gratitude. There were times in the past 18 months where I seriously wondered if I needed to begin a new, non-acting chapter of my life. But I was heartbroken by the idea that my seven-year-old would never have gotten a chance to see me on stage. Now, she will be in the audience on opening night of The Alchemist! (thank you, 6 PM kid-friendly curtain time).
Are there any parts of your role or the play that seem particularly poignant/relevant following the events of the past 18 months?
The Alchemist takes place during a plague, where the wealthy have fled town, and the poor are left to fend for themselves. So despite the fact that it's a farce about con artists, the glaring inequities between those who were privileged enough to flee NYC during the pandemic vs. those who didn't have those options is very timely.
What would you say to audience members who may be feeling uneasy about returning to live theatre?
That I understand the uneasiness and trepidation, but to remember: If you are vaccinated and masked, the beneficial healing powers of laughter dwarf any risks!
During this time of reflection and re-education regarding BIPOC artists and artistry, particularly in the theatre, what do you want people (those in power, fellow artists, audiences) to be aware of? What do you want them to consider further?
I think that those in power need to guard against complacency—the work towards creating a more just and equitable world is never done. It's not enough to have good intentions—in fact, the road to hell is paved with them—you have to act. And then you have to be okay with the fact that progress is messy, and sometimes the pendulum swings widely before it settles. But when it settles, it has hopefully moved the needle towards justice.
What advice would you give to someone who may be struggling with the isolation and/or the current unrest?
The events of the past 18 months have been unprecedented in their effect on all of our levels of stress and anxiety. Radical self-care is needed, and, as they say on the airplane, "Please put the oxygen mask on yourself before assisting others!"
What, if anything, did you learn about yourself during the past year-and-a-half that you didn't already know?
Just becoming aware of a lot of privilege and good fortune that I maybe previously had taken for granted: that I had a family—my wife and daughter—who I really, really liked hanging out with, that I had been lucky enough to make a living doing what I loved for over 20 years, and, finally, that there were a lot of things about society and my place in it that I assumed I understood clearly, that were in fact much more nuanced, complex, and thorny.
What organization would you recommend people learn more about or donate to during this time of change?
Locally: The Broadway Advocacy Coalition. Nationally: The Innocence Project. Globally: International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.