Keith Hamilton Cobb is well-versed in bringing the drama. Known for TV gigs on soap operas The Young and the Restless and All My Children, the actor/playwright is on the road for the second tour of American Moor, a one-man show written and performed by Cobb based on his own struggles as an African American actor. We caught up with Cobb before he reprises his role at ArtsEmerson’s Paramount Center on April 10-21.
Where did the inspiration for American Moor come from? I’ve been a professional actor for more than 30 years of my life and I’ve been an African American man experiencing this country for 57 years, and the two things are inextricable and it took me a while to realize that. It took me a while to grow into my professional state as an actor and to grow into my African American manhood, and understand who it was and how people perceive me and where I fit and take ownership and pride in my being. These are journeys, both of them, and when you combine them, it opens up all sorts of conversations about what one is allowed to do and be in this culture.
What’s it like performing something you’ve written? It has an upside and a downside. The upside is that it’s 40 pages of words that came out of me. Each word means something specifically to me and has relevance to my life and, in that respect, it’s certainly easier to get through it. The downside is that as important as this play has apparently turned out to be, in many ways and respects, you get tired of unfolding your own life, your own vulnerabilities. It’s not wholly autobiographical—there is fiction to it—but it gets its deeply charged issues and experiences from my life. To unpack those every night can be not fun, but it’s important.
How does it feel performing an entire show by yourself? It’s a journey, and some nights it’s like walking through mud and other nights it’s not, and that has a lot to do with the audience. Theater is a collaborative effort. The experience is not just mine; it’s all of ours. We get in there together and we have a dialogue, and how the audience reacts, how they are engaged, creates energy, and the energy can feed a performance and take it in a direction. So, it varies from night to night. It can be frightening, but at this point, I understand that this play lands on all sorts of people across all racial and age and sexual spectrums. It lands on all of them in ways that move them on a truly visceral level.