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‘Mr. Joy’ a life-changing experience for actress Tangela Large

Production runs through Oct. 18 at Emerson College

Colette Greenstein
Colette Greenstein has been a contributing arts & entertainment writer for the Banner since 2009. VIEW BIO
‘Mr. Joy’ a life-changing experience for actress Tangela Large
Actress Tangela Large in the one-woman play “Mr. Joy” written by Daniel Beaty and directed by David Dower. Mr. Joy can be seen at at Emerson/Jackie Liebergott Black Box at the Emerson/Paramount Center in Boston now through Sunday, October 18, 2015. (Photo: Paul Marotta)

“It’s more about changing lives,” says actress Tangela Large of “Mr. Joy,” the one-woman play written by playwright and ArtsEmerson Artist-in-Residence Daniel Beaty and starring Large. “And I truly believe that art can change lives.”

Bringing nine different characters to life — including the bubbly 11-year-old Clarissa; Peter, Clarissa’s 12-year-old boyfriend; Becky, a Caucasian socialite who’s “down with the cause,” as Large says; and Clifford, a black, Republican real estate mogul who just happens to be Becky’s boyfriend — Large’s portrayal of the characters is extraordinary.

She moves seamlessly from one character to another as each reveals how an attack on Mr. Joy — a Chinese cobbler who’s been repairing shoes in the Harlem community he’s called home for 25 years — has impacted them and their lives.

In character

Large embodies each character so fully, you forget it’s her on stage. As Large describes it, it’s almost “a sense of schizophrenia” as she transforms into each person. The actress believes that part of the answer to the challenge of such transformation lies in naming the problem.

“So, just committing to the choice,” she says, “the choice that I’m changing. I’m really simple when it comes to my process. I get a script; I read the words, and that’s what I rely on. It’s the power of the change in the words. So, the gestures became easy because the language is so different for each character. It’s so contrasting. So with those words, a gesture will come.”

Large, who grew up in East Point, Georgia, always dreamed of acting. She was a fan of playwrights Suzan-Lori Parks and playwright Anna Deveare Smith. She recalls reading her first play by Parks at 13. At 17, she read Smith’s “Fires in the Mirror.”

“I was that kid obsessed with her in high school,” she says.

Fast-forward some 10 years later, and the 2014 Brown University graduate with her MFA in acting couldn’t be more excited that she’s living out her dream. After graduating from Brown, she was able to land an agent “coming right out of the gate,” as she describes it.

“I was lucky,” she says.” I was really lucky to get representation and to get someone who believed in my talent.”

So she packed her bags and moved to New York. Three months later, her agent sent her the sides (typically a reading that involves at least two characters) for “Mr. Joy.” Large remembers that she received six pages and six different speeches that she had to prepare in three days.

“I think I got Clarissa, Bessie, John Lee, Rebecca, and James the homeless man. I assumed it was from six different plays,” she recalls.

But once she read the dialogue, she was blown away.

“… I read Clarissa and I was like ‘Oh, my god,’” she says. “I’m always so queenly, so stoic, and so grounded in my type. Deep down inside I’m a big goofy kid. And, I got excited. I walked into the audition and I was like, ‘You know, I have to have it.’ And I had fun.”

Large landed the role, and it has been life-changing. “I feel more womanly. I feel like an adult and I feel strong,” she explains. “The life of an artist is so beautiful, but sometimes it can be incredibly lonely. You have to kind of admit that. There’s a lot of traveling. I don’t have children. I’m a single woman and I’m from Atlanta, Georgia, so I’m far from home. I’ve been very far from home for about five years now, trying to pursue the gift that God has given me.”

She continues, “I appreciate this play because it’s reminded me that there’s always something bigger than myself, which keeps you out of your head sometimes. It’s natural for actors to be self-absorbed, because we always have to deal with ourselves in that way. That’s why actors crave relationships, and family around, because it reminds you that there’s something way bigger than yourself. And, I think that’s how this piece has kind of changed my life. It reminds me that I’m doing something far greater, much more than what I ever suspected.”