In Stephen Belber’s “The Power of Duff,” Elizabeth Rodriguez plays a straight-laced news anchor who raises an eyebrow each time her colleague signs off the broadcast with a prayer.
That is, she does until miracles start to happen.
Preview performances begin Tuesday at the Gil Cates Theater at the Geffen Playhouse, where the West Coast premiere of the play opens April 15 and runs through May 17. It is directed by Peter DuBois and stars Josh Stamberg — seen on Showtime’s “The Affair,” NBC’s “Parenthood” and Lifetime’s “Drop Dead Diva” — in the title role as Charlie Duff.
Rodriguez, who splits her time between Los Angeles and New York, says she took on the role of newswoman Sue Raspell between shooting “Orange Is the New Black,” the Netflix series whose ensemble cast won a Screen Actors Guild Award in January.
On the hit series, the celebrated Nuyorican actress with a long resume of performances on stage and screen portrays Aleida Diaz, a casualty of the drug war who is serving time in a women’s penitentiary alongside her adult daughter.
She was asked about her most familiar role first.
Q Did you originally audition for the part of Aleida?
A I auditioned for two parts. I auditioned for ‘Yoga’ Jones and then, right there in the same room, I changed my shirt and became less Zen and I went for Aleida. I had no idea what my character was going to develop into, nor I think did the writers. If I had known that I was going to be a prisoner with five children from five different baby daddies, I would’ve probably passed. That said, I would be sitting here now kicking myself.
Q Did you always want to be an actor?
A No, but when I was young I hung out with people in the music industry in New York. They were doing a local TV show and asked me to come along for dinner one night. The producer thought that I was, I don’t know, insane or loud or whatever. So I chose the path that was in front of me and worked hard to acquire the tools I would need. I’ve been really blessed being a part of an incredible theater company (Labyrinth Theater Co., which “The Power of Duff” playwright is also a proud member of), which is where I continue to nurture my art.
Q Is the stage where you most flex those acting muscles?
A You get to explore and bring the character to life fully in a way that you don’t normally get to do on TV unless you’re in a series. So yeah, the theater has saved my soul and allowed me to grow as an artist. Without it, I wouldn’t have the muscles that I have because you don’t get that from just going to an acting class or working sporadically.
Q In addition to Outer Critics Circle and Theatre World awards, you received a Tony nomination for the Broadway world premiere of “The Mother ... With the Hat.” What went through your mind when you got news of the nomination?
A It’s interesting. My uncle, who was also my godfather, passed away suddenly the weekend before the Tonys so I was on a plane to Puerto Rico to be with my family. It wasn’t until months later when I was in the middle of a scene going down some stairs that I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror, and this little voice inside me said, ‘You were nominated for a Tony.’
I told the stage manager, Guess what just happened? I had a moment: I was nominated for a Tony. He said, ‘Yes you were.’
It was the craziest delayed reaction.
Q Now you’re doing “The Power of Duff.” Was this a show born out of readings at the Labyrinth Theater Co.?
A If there were readings, I wasn’t around for them and it wasn’t written with me in mind. But the playwright and I have wanted to work with each other for a very long time. We respect each others’ work.
Q How does Sue fit into the story?
A I’m very cut-and-dried in my beliefs that journalism and religion don’t intermix. And so, I am very against what (Charlie is) doing.
Q What are the prayers about?
A At first, they’re personal. After that he starts praying for things in the news when miracles start happening. The masses join in. He’s seen as a God-like figure by some and a false prophet by others.
Q What drew you to the play and your part?
A Two things: It’s an incredibly written play by a talented playwright and it was a chance to be seen in a way that I haven’t had the opportunity to be seen. Everyone recognizes me only from ‘Orange’ and not ‘Prime Suspect’ as the detective or anything I might have done prior. Yes it’s a blessing, but it’s also a curse.
Q Do people recognize you as Aleida on the street?
A Only when my sass comes out. I could be at dinner and someone will come up and apologize for not recognizing me. But I always thank them for it. “No, no, it’s really OK. I love that you didn’t recognize me,” I’ll say.
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