Actress Ashanti Brown is one of the leading actors in the hit stage play, “Year of the Rabbit,” now playing at the Atwater Theatre in Los Angeles. “Year of the Rabbit,” produced by Keliher Walsh and directed by James Eckhouse, is a riveting look at the implications of war and how families are affected by its impact.
Brown, who has starred in NCIS Los Angeles, Body of Proof and NBC’s Community, plays Lt. Kara Bridges, a soldier caught up in the web of love, moral judgment and military condemnation in “Year of the Rabbit.” News4usonline.com interviewed Brown to discuss her role and asked her about how war can impact the lives of people, regardless of gender, religion and ethnic background.
News4usonline.com: What does “Year of the Rabbit” teaches us about war?
AB: “I like that it shows all sides of war. It doesn’t just show one side. It shows the military fighters. It also shows the civilians, people who actually lived there and it shows the families that it affects. In war nobody wins. Nobody wins in war. It’s devastating to everybody. There are so many people’s lives affected long after the war is over.”
News4usonline.com: How would you describe “Year of the Rabbit?”
AB: “I would describe the play as a play about two families and their response about the devastation of war; the impact it has on relationships, families, people and how it continues to devastates people all over. It moves between two different wars-between the Vietnam War and the Afghanistan War.”
News4usonline.com: What attracted you to the role of Lt. Kara Bridges?
AB: “When I first read it and what I loved about Kara was that I thought it was a great opportunity for me as an actress because she is so complex. I think she is so strong and she is so vulnerable at the same time. That was the initial thing about it. This woman-she is a fighter pilot. She has this machine, this million dollar machine that she co-pilots and it takes a certain type of woman to be able to do that. Not only that, she is a minority as well. She is black and Vietnamese. She has allowed herself, although it was brief, to fall in love. That was exciting. What attracted me to her was that she was strong and soft at the same time.”
News4usonline.com: How far of a stretch was it playing this character in comparison to other roles you’ve taken?
AB: “It must have been a big stretch for me. I don’t recall doing anything like this. I think it was a definite real stretch for me. Of course, I know what it’s like to fall in love. Everything else was definitely a stretch.”
News4usonline.com: Your character exudes a wide range of emotions, a challenge for any actor. How difficult is it to go from extreme of emotion to another in this particular role?
AB: “I used to be terrified of that last scene. Every time I would get to that last scene I would think that it felt so fake. It’s not real. I would say how am I going to do this? It was very hard for me to get to my emotional state. It wasn’t until we started to run the play together that I was able to get that sort of thought I needed to have for the last scene.
“I look at photos before I go on for that that last scene. I look at photos of the people that I’ve killed; actual photos of some of civilians who have died. I look at them every day before I go on for that last scene. I have to see it. Part of my ritual is that I look at those photos every day, and it pulls something out of me and I am so full.”
News4usonline.com: What is it like to work with such a great actor like Meshach Taylor?
AB: “Meshach is so good. He is so pleasant. He is so alive. I love acting with him. It’s always so fresh, so new. So when we get into that scene we go at it. It’s like a battle. It’s like I’m trying to stand up for myself, trying to figure things out. Meshach is a fantastic actor. I love being on stage with him. It’s hard but it’s good.”
News4usonline.com: Your character has a love affair with a fellow fighter pilot which impairs their judgment. Subsequently, there is immediate fallout as a result of this love affair when innocent bystanders at a wedding are killed and Lt. Bridges’ lover crashes his plane. Is this a realistic scenario?
AB: “I think she falls deeply, deeply in love with this man. I think she wanted the friendship that they had. They were a team. I kind of think that was deep was for her. She wanted the bond and the trust that they had. I think it revolves around that bond-that friendship between two people. The chemistry is there between them. They find themselves in relations, and they sort of cross that line. And I think that’s exciting for both of them, especially for her. She comes from a military father. She’s always done the right thing. So I think for a moment in time she allows herself to relax.”
News4usonline.com: Can you discuss the scene in which your character faces intense scrutiny by her commanders about her inappropriate actions?
AB: “The play sort of starts at the end. She (Lt. Bridges) comes in and she’s questioned by the admiral and the general about exactly what happened. They’re trying to find out if Lt. Skinner (Will McFadden) committed suicide? They need to get their story straight. They sort of try to find a reason to pin it on her or cover it up or whatever, so they’re pushing her and asking her if she had sex in the relationship. In this scene where she is questioned, my job is on the line so I’m trying to protect him in a way because he is a top gun.
“She wants to talk about him with dignity and integrity. And while she is doing this…she has flashbacks…his ghosts comes and goes. It’s crazy. It’s trying to stay pleasant and knowing all of these high stakes are involved and having your mind kind of go. She loses her mind a little bit. She sees him. She’s not sure if she’s sees him. She feels him and at the same time they’re pounding her with questions.”
News4usonline.com: What has been the most challenging part of playing the deeply troubled and complex character Lt. Bridges in “Year of the Rabbit?”
AB: “It’s the aftermath of the moment when she realizes what she has done, the people that she has killed and the scene with her father, the scene where he says to her, ‘You’re not a little girl anymore, you’re a fighter.’”
“And I go, ‘A killer?’ And then he goes, ‘Yes, an honored and decorated warrior. And I go, ‘You love me for that.’ I think at that moment she is piecing together what she’s been doing all this time. She makes a discovery and it all comes back. In that last moment with her father, she discovers that she is, in fact, a killer. That’s a hard pill to swallow. Seeing someone who loves her job, think she is doing the right thing, thinks she’s saving people-that’s a hard moment.”
Dennis is the editor and publisher of News4usonline. He covers the NFL, NBA, MLB, racial and social justice, civil rights, and HBCUs. Dennis earned a journalism degree from “The Mecca” aka Howard University. “I write on what I am passionate about.”