Like Dr. King, Mr. Dirden graduated from Morehouse. He got his MFA in acting from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he met his wife, Crystal A. Dickinson. They are expecting their first child — a boy — on April 1. His Broadway credits include “Prelude to a Kiss” and “Clybourne Park,” and he was featured on the website of the New York Times for his role as Boy Willie in the Signature Theater’s 2012 revival of August Wilson’s “The Piano Lesson.” He performed an excerpt from his critically acclaimed performance.
In The Piano Lesson, Mr. Dirden’s real-life younger sibling Jason played the role of Lymon. The pair also played brothers in a revival of Suzan-Lori Parks’ “Topdog/Underdog,” at the Two River Theater Company in Red Bank, N.J. Jason Dirden will play George Murchison in a revival of Lorraine Hansberry’s “Raisin in the Sun.” The play stars Denzel Washington, who will play Walter Lee Younger.
For Mr. Dirden, that audiences learn the significance of Dr. King’s political role in helping pass the Civil Rights Act, is a personal mission. He says the simple act of L.B.J. handing Dr. King one of the pens that literally signed the act into law embodies the weight of his role in the movement.
“He wasn’t just dealing with presidents, which he did,” Mr. Dirden said. “But he was dealing with the different factions within the Civil Rights Movement. He was just head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. But he had to deal with CORE, the NAACP, SNCC who were all at opposing ends in terms of strategy– he’s someone who not only had to build bridges with Congress and with the president, but had to build bridges within the black community so that we could come with one unified voice when they went to Congress to get the pressure on the lawmakers to affect change. We don’t see Dr. King as an architect of peace in that way.”
“All the Way” had a performance the same night of the series finale of “Breaking Bad.” Mr. Dirden said that you wouldn’t have been able to tell Mr. Cranston was to simultaneously appear in one of the best television shows of all-time. “He was on stage with you and you just knew that there’s no other place that he would rather be.”
The cast’s dedication is why the end result is so satisfying to Mr. Dirden.
“When everybody’s work comes together as a uniform piece of theater that’s moving, that’s entertaining, that’s lively and funny and heart wrenching? That’s magic. You’ve got all these different cooks in the pot, the fact that you can come up with one great-tasting meal is magic. It’s amazing to me that it happens as often as it does.”
“The performance you see early in the run will be different than you see later on. They’ll be different, more detailed because the more you wear this character and the more it infuses you, the more texture you can add. I’m going to do that, Bryan’s going to do that, the director’s going to do that, too. Most shows you go to you’ll see it and say, ‘Yeah that was a great meal but something was off. With this particular show nothing is off. That’s because everybody is doing the work.”
“All the Way” is currently in previews. It opens March 6 and runs through June 29 at the Neil Simon Theatre at 250 W. 52nd St.