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Debbi Morgan, Unveiled

Actress Talks Life, Love and Healing from Abuse

Shantella Y. Sherman | 9/7/2013, 11:25 a.m.
Debbi Morgan

Why should the world be over-wise,

In counting all our tears and sighs?

Nay, let them only see us, while

We wear the mask. – Paul Lawrence Dunbar

Masks are often associated with the theater – the masquerades that allow one to temporarily be freed of secret desires and buried regrets. Masks also conceal both the identity and the power of the performer. Actress Debbi Morgan has just removed her mask. And while television and film audiences have grown mesmerized by her beauty – cavernous dimples, timeless grace, and a laughter that invokes joy, they know little about the woman beneath the mask.

Not to be alarmed – there is no Jane Eyre-esque beast lurking beneath the surface, but certainly a tale of generational abuse that has ironically rested in the crevices between Morgan's personal life and the stage since the curtains opened. Known for her portrayal of Dr. Angela Hubbard on the popular daytime soap opera "All My Children," Morgan has been a staple in American households since the 1970s with roles in "What's Happening!!" and "Alex Haley's Roots: The Next Generation" and more recently in groundbreaking films "Coach Carter," "The Hurricane," "Eve's Bayou" and "Asunder."

In her new one-woman production (and future memoir) "The Monkey on My Back," Morgan reveals a life of extremes that, when taken into context, seem oddly disjointed from the woman being interviewed.

"People always looked at me and thought that I had it together and I wanted to kind of continue to live behind that mask and that façade for a while," Morgan said. "When I finally got to a point where I could put pen to paper, I realized how cathartic it was along with the therapy I’d gone through. When I was able to release it and put it out, it was that last bit of toxicity that was filling me up inside. There is no more stuff inside of me."

"The Monkey on My Back" offers an intense journey through Morgan's legacy of fear and abuse, which spanned three generations of women beginning with her grandmother and her mother. The show grew out of a memoir she has been writing for almost 10 years.

"I started writing years ago and realized I hadn't come full circle and had a lot of stuff still to go through. A lot of it was about the generations before me and things I went through as a child. I looked at where my life was and how I stayed stuck in terms of what I felt my legacy was. I knew I had a lot more work to do so I put [the memoir] away. I also wasn't sure if I was ready to be that revealing about myself," Morgan said.

Her resolve, however, was a steadied following a Girls, Inc. speech in November, during which she divulged some of her life story.

“A woman came up to me in tears afterwards and said, 'I have two teenage daughters who have been watching for years as their father abused me. I never thought about what it was doing to them. … After listening to you tonight, I'm not putting my daughters through this for another day.' Her words affected me so much. It is one thing for a person to sit in the privacy of their own homes or on a bus and read a story, it is another to actually hear the words and hear these characters and hear what I went through as a child. Through the performance, I can reach people on such a deeper level,” said Morgan, whose mother had a similar reaction to chapters of her upcoming book.

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