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Tony Award winner Audra McDonald returns to Broadway in "Ohio State Murders"

Audra McDonald stars in new Broadway play "Ohio State Murders"
Audra McDonald stars in new Broadway play "Ohio State Murders" 04:05

NEW YORK -- Six-time Tony Award winner Audra McDonald is back on Broadway in the new play "Ohio State Murders," opening Thursday night.

It's the first show staged at the newly named James Earl Jones Theatre, and that's not the only way this production is making history.

In "Ohio State Murders," the pain of the past is familiar, unsettling and visible.

Audra McDonald stars as Suzanne Alexander, a celebrated author who returns to the Ohio State University campus to speak about the violent imagery in her writing.

"Suzanne Alexander is a character who has been, you know, holding on to a very deep, difficult secret for a long time," McDonald said.

The suspense builds over 75 minutes -- secrets revealed, lives shattered. The other characters are in her memory, and Suzanne is haunted by horrors from decades ago.

McDonald plays both the older and younger Suzanne Alexander, a woman scarred by hatred.

"You're also starting to understand the world in which it happened ... and the way that that sort of insidious, systemic racism can, you know, be death by 1000 cuts," McDonald said.

"Ohio State Murders" is the Broadway debut for 91-year old playwright Adrienne Kennedy. McDonald says it's about time Kennedy's work is seen on a Broadway stage.

"To have been writing and coming up with these incredibly prolific, poetic, difficult, beautiful plays since the '60s and not have ever had one commercially produced on Broadway just seemed a crime," McDonald said.

Tony Award winner Kenny Leon is the director.

"So this play has to move in a suspenseful way, like, what's going to happen next?" he said. "It explores human behavior, it explores our connectedness to each other, and it asked the questions, why do we do the things we do? When people walk away from the theater, I went them to say, we can love on humanity a little more."

Tony nominee Bryce Pinkham says he couldn't resist being onstage opposite Audra McDonald. He portrays a literature professor who plays a pivotal role.

Pinkham calls the play masterful.

"It feels important that we are centering a Black woman's experience, that we are amplifying a Black playwright's voice. But also that, you know, we're asking ourselves, both in the cast, in the company, but also in the audience, what our role might have been or continues to be in racism in our country," he said.

Actress Lizan Mitchell, who plays several characters in the play, says the text really resonates.

"The fact that it so closely replicated things that went on in my own life -- I'm not quite 91 yet -- but the ongoing experience of people of color as they try to rise through the halls of education and just regular everyday life is so similar. And so things that were buried in me, old traumas that I have forgotten about came to the surface, and it's always wonderful when you can unload some baggage. And that only happens, in my mind, when the truth is told," she said.

This is the first time Leon and McDonald have worked together on Broadway since the 2004 revival of "A Raisin in the Sun."

"To be in a room with a six-time Tony Award-winning actress, it has been so, so worth it, so amazing," Leon said.

"I want them to be thinking about this for a very long time. I want the play to still continue to resonate. I want them to just continue to, like, not be able to get the play out of their minds," McDonald said.

Leon, meanwhile, is a busy man this season; he also directed the revival of the play "Topdog/Underdog."

"Ohio State Murders" runs through Feb. 12 at the James Earl Jones Theatre.

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