Raekwon Fuller, a senior at Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC) from Anderson, South Carolina, credits acting with giving him a community in his hometown, where he often didn’t feel welcome as a gay black man.
A’ryee McGirt, an FCLC senior from Hollis, Queens, didn’t join the theater program until her sophomore year but has since seen her love for acting grow.
And Katie Heaton, an FCLC senior and a Brooklyn native who briefly rebelled against the field her father found success in as a playwright, has since fallen in love with set design.
Each of these students has a lead role in La Cocina, the final mainstage show of the year by Fordham Theatre. The play, which is directed by Alex Shaw and written by interim director of playwriting Tony Meneses, was inspired by Arnold Wesker’s 1957 production The Kitchen. It tells the story of the back of the house of a New York City restaurant kitchen, where cooks and waitstaff juggle orders, dishes, and their own dreams of a better life. The production opened on April 13 and runs through April 22,
Fuller, who coincidentally plays a character named Ray, said the show–his last at Fordham since he is a senior— is the culmination of a time of real-life self-exploration for him.
“When I was in high school, I found fellow African American students in the theater program, and they really helped me cultivate my self-love,” he said.
“I’ve been trying to continue that through Fordham by exploring the depths of my sexuality, my personality, and my Blackness, and really trying to incorporate that into any artistic process that I’m in.”
In Ray, he found a character who is a leader and stands up for his community, he said. Fuller has fewer lines than in previous mainstage roles, which he actually views as an opportunity for growth.
“What makes a successful actor is no matter how big or small your line is, you’re going out there like you were given the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech by Martin Luther King,” he said.
When McGirt first enrolled at Fordham, she commuted over an hour from Queens. Unlike peers who’d auditioned for the program their senior year in high school, she spent that year as an undecided major. She successfully auditioned her sophomore year.
“Growing up, I didn’t have that much exposure to theater, so I’m very thankful I’ve been able to study a lot of classical and contemporary plays. My love for theater has just grown,” she said.
In La Cocina, McGirt has her first big role as Monique, who is a new manager of the kitchen. The job is actually a step down for Monique, which makes the character more complex, and for McGirt, also more appealing.
“I love that Monique is a leader. No one really teaches her anything; she’s kind of just thrown into this chaos and she has to work with what she has,” she said.
Heaton, a double major in theater and visual arts, said she was drawn to La Cocina as a set designer because it’s a contemporary production that deals with today’s issues.
“There is something exciting about being able to really explore current themes with social justice,” she said.
After working on smaller shows, it’s her first opportunity to supervise a mainstage production. In this case, that meant the construction of a lifesize, industrial kitchen.
“I’m grateful for it because it’s made me feel a lot more prepared for the actual world of set design,” she said.
Meneses, the playwright, said working with students has made the play better.
“A play is such a collaborative thing, where you have this version in your head of how a line may sound or how a moment may look,” he said.
“What’s fun is when an actor or director or designer does something so unexpected and different than what you thought it was, and it’s actually better.”
La Cocina continues with shows at 8 p.m. Wednesday, April 19 through Friday, April 21, and 2 and 8 p.m. on Saturday, April 22.
—Video by Taylor Ha