As an artist, Dayna Jarae Dantzler doesn’t mind confronting the darker side of human nature, and she’s had her fair share as she grapples with the grimmest of themes as the lead character Celie in the national tour of the musical “The Color Purple,” opening this week at the National Theatre in Washington.
Celie, played by Whoopi Goldberg in the 1985 film version based on the seminal novel by Alice Walker, is a young, black woman in the rural South who overcomes a life of poverty, abuse, and humiliation.
Like Celie, Dantzler says she’s learned to triumph through her faith and by leaning on the pivotal women around her on and off stage.
Arts Post: Were you anxious about taking a role that had been played by a famous actress in the film, The Color Purple?
Dantzler: I was very nervous when I accepted “Celie,” but then I learned to embrace her whole-heartedly. She was played by Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey plays her first friend, so those two names attached to the story made me nervous.
Arts Post: Has this role taught you anything about female friendships?
Dantzler: The women are sweet to each other. They have each other’s back. They teach each other that they are capable of being loved. The book displays that, and I think this is something that’s missing in most female roles today. All we see and hear these days is the cattiness.
Arts Post: Are there any women in your life who inspire you artistically?
Dantzler: My mother, definitely. She’s always been there for me.
Arts Post: This piece has so many dark and oppressive elements. Do you find that you get pulled into some weird moods as you prepare?
Dantzler: It’s actually very uplifting. Celie triumphs in the end; she ends up on top. I love going on the journey with her. I always say a prayer before I go on stage. This experience has deepened my faith in God.
Arts Post: This musical is from an African-American point of view. What do you think are the universal themes in the story everyone can relate to?
Dantzler: It definitely resonates with the black community, but it’s about the human spirit. Love, forgiveness, redemption, sorrow, and joy are things everyone can feel. It’s more PG-13 because of the themes, but I think young girls of all ages will especially be inspired by it.
Arts Post: Have you ever met Alice Walker, the author of the novel?
Dantzler: I have not, but I hope to some day. I think we would have a lot to talk about. I know she’s seen the musical production of her book.