The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

How theater veteran Nova Y. Payton would spend a perfect day in D.C.

In D.C. Dream Day, we ask our favorite people in the area to tell us how they would spend a perfect day in the District.

Nova Y. Payton isn’t one to shy from daunting roles. The D.C. theater veteran has played Effie White, the “Dreamgirls” character that won Jennifer Holliday a Tony and Jennifer Hudson an Oscar, several times onstage. She was set to star in Signature Theatre’s production of “Mamma Mia!” as Donna, the role immortalized on-screen by Meryl Streep, in 2020 before the pandemic intervened. Last fall, she joined the cast of “Into the Woods” as the Witch — a part famously inhabited by Bernadette Peters onstage and, again, Streep on-screen — at Austin’s Zach Theatre.

Next up for Payton: the role of Celie in “The Color Purple,” running Aug. 16 to Oct. 9 at Signature Theatre. After Whoopi Goldberg starred in the acclaimed 1985 film, LaChanze played the part in the 2005 stage musical and Cynthia Erivo stepped in for the rousing 2015 Broadway revival, Payton will embody the protagonist in Alice Walker’s decades-spanning tale of subjugation, perseverance and self-discovery in the American South.

“How do you put your own stamp on something that’s been done so beautifully by some amazing people?” says Payton, 42. “The only thing I can come up with is just being honest with it and finding my truth in her and creating my whole journey throughout this story. So it’s exciting to do, it’s challenging — I love a good challenge — but also, at the same time, it’s a little scary.”

There’s nothing to fear, of course, on Payton’s theoretical perfect day, which the Fort Washington resident spends zipping around the D.C. area with her 13-year-old son, Micah, and 4-year-old daughter, Minah.

I’m a mom of two, so I would start the day by wrangling in my kiddos, as I love to call them. My kids always have things to do, so the first thing I’d do is take my daughter to her ice skating lessons at the Tucker Road Ice Rink in Fort Washington. I’m not a coffee person — I’m more of a tea and smoothie person — so I would stop at Tropical Smoothie Cafe and get the avocolada smoothie, with the spinach and kale pack and no turbinado.

From there, we’d take my son to his basketball practice and then go have lunch. I thought long and hard about my dream meal, and it’s definitely shrimp and grits from Milk & Honey Cafe. It’s so good. Another one of my favorites is Bob & Edith’s Diner, which I love because you can get breakfast, lunch or dinner — it doesn’t matter. If we go there, I would do two eggs scrambled, hold the cheese, with turkey sausage and blueberry pancakes. I also wouldn’t mind a side of grits with a little butter and cheese.

Then we’d cut across to National Harbor for a walk around the area. There’s so much to do over there — they’ve had that UniverSoul Circus recently, so I’d take the kiddos to that. Then I would drop them off at home, because I’ve had the daytime with them, and I’d go out to enjoy spending time downtown. I wouldn’t mind going to some of the museums, and I’ve really been wanting to see the Hirshhorn, so I would go there.

Next, I’d cut over to Old Ebbitt Grill and get myself a little crab cake platter for dinner. Or I would go to the food truck Garlic Sensations, which is amazing. You can get crab cakes, you can get fish and shrimp, you can get hush puppies, macaroni and cheese and string beans. I’d definitely have to walk that off, so I’d hit another museum — probably the National Museum of Natural History.

After that, I’d actually like to head in early because the nighttime downtown gets a little cray cray for me. So I’d go back home and do something outside with the kids before deciding on something to watch. I’d allow the kids — whoever’s turn it is — to pick. Minah will probably say “Sing 2” — she loves to watch that and sing over it, which is why we don’t get a chance to really hear the movie! And Micah is really into “Stranger Things.” So we’d put on one of those and end with a movie night.