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Actor Eric Keith Chappelle in Shakespeare Theatre€s ION

Edith Billups | 4/8/2009, 1:06 p.m.

African American actor Keith Eric Chappelle had dreams of playing for the New York Yankees where he was a teen growing up in New York, but a high school injury would lead him on a different path. Today, as the lead in the Shakespeare Theatre€s production of Ion playing through April 12th, Chappelle is receiving rave reviews that leave him with no regrets about a career in baseball. €I€m enjoying it and very grateful,€ said the Julliard-trained New York native.

The only son in a family where practicality was encouraged over the arts, the twenty something Chappelle said he originally considered teaching as a career while a student at Suffolk Community College, €but my talents were not in biology or mathematic,€ he laughed. €I ended up taking acting to round out my course load, and although I liked it, I did poorly. I found that you have to crawl before you walk,€ Chappelle said.
His crawling, however, proved to be impressive enough for his instructor, who encouraged him to pursue a career in acting. Chappelle€s father, however, had his doubts. €He thought I would grow out of it, and even when I got into Julliard, he said I should make sure that I took some computer classes. He really didn€t get the acting thing,€ Chappelle said.

A competition at the Kennedy Center, however, would prove to be fate driven. €A woman who worked with Michael Khan (the Shakespeare Theatre€s artistic director) told me that I should audition for Julliard where Michael was the dean of acting.€

Chappelle tried out for the lead part in November and won the role. Written by Euripides, the classic Greek play is about loss and reconciliation and a young man€s search for his mother.

According to Chappelle, €This play has been interesting because it is about a character looking for his mother, and I lost my mom, Terry Chappelle, to complications of multiple sclerosis in March 2007. I was at a point where I was dealing with the loss but asked to play someone who is trying to make that connection. It was one of the reasons that I took the role because I felt that, for me, it was no accident.€

Today, Chappelle has joined a growing number of African American actors who are enjoying success in classical theater. €It€s what I want to do from sun up to sunset and past sunset,€ he said.

He names as his role models Don Cheadle and Jeffrey Wright, who starred in Top Dog, Under Dog at the Public Theatre, and Denzel Washington. €€Malcolm X€ is still my all time favorite movie,€ Chappelle said.

Chappelle said he hopes that the day will come when more people of color will be cast in non-traditional roles. €I will be amazed if an African America or an Asian will be selected to play Hamlet because he is the Dane and usually cast as blonde-haired and blue-eyed,€ Chappelle said.

Yet with the recent election of a Black president, €Hopefully, there will be more equality is a business where the power base has been White men. But things are changing. When the number of people of color being hired reflects the number in the union, then that will be equality,€ Chappelle said.
In Ion, critics have called Chappelle €a real find€ (Potomac Stages), and the DC Examiner has said the actor €brings both the requisite vulnerability and power to the role.€ For tickets, visit www.theshakespearetheater.org.€