The bounty of success
Brampton actor’s plate is full, playing the sister in Raisin in the Sun before going to Stratford
Toronto Star · 13 Oct 2008 · RICHARD OUZOUNIAN THEATRE CRITIC
Cara Ricketts is normally one of the busiest young actors in the country, but considering today is Thanksgiving, she’s going to be working overtime.
“I am so grateful for all I’ve been given this past year!” she says, before starting a final re- hearsal for Soulpepper Theatre’s A Raisin in the Sun, which opens at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts Thursday night after concluding a successful run at Theatre Calgary. And Ricketts is right; it’s been a pretty amazing run of luck for Ricketts, although — having seen many of her performances — it’s a safe bet that talent plays as much of a part as luck in the equation.
She started this year with the controversial production of Born Ready by Joseph Jomo Pierre, which caused a flurry of school cancellations because of its graphic depiction of ghetto life. Then she joined the company of the Dream in High Park for the second season of its hit Caribbean styled production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Then it was straight into A Raisin in the Sun, which will occupy her for most of the rest of this year. After that, a short break and she joins the Stratford Shakespeare Festival company for a season in some very substantial roles. Not bad for a young woman who started out thinking she really wanted to be an Egyptologist.
“No, really!” she laughs. “Okay, I admit it was after I saw one of the Indiana Jones movies, but I was really serious about it for a while. I even had an ankh tattooed on my neck.” Luckily for us, the theatre had a stronger pull, although it took a while to make itself felt.
Ricketts was born in North York on April 22, 1983, in a distressingly familiar scenario: “I had two younger sisters, my mom worked hard at a hospital . . . my dad wasn’t around.” During her early years, she was raised at Jane and Finch, which meant that “mom kept us in the house a lot.” But after a while, they moved to Brampton, which was “a whole different world,” she recalls. “Everybody knew everybody and got along.” Around that time, her aunt used to take her to see community theatre shows, but things didn’t really click until she reached St. Margaret d’Youville high school.
“A wonderful teacher named Mr. Simon kept pushing me into plays like Marvin’s Room, with totally non-traditional casting. The same thing happened with all the roles I played in Brampton, the Peel Pantos, everything. “Being black was never an issue, never brought up.”
The success Ricketts has known ever since, in parts written for almost every possible race, suggests the validity of the old phrase “a child learns what he lives.” In 2002, Ricketts went on to the Humber School of Creative and Performing Arts, where fate was on her side again when she came under the wing of Diana Belshaw, head of acting at the school. “I still call her Mama Belshaw,” she giggles. “She taught all of us that there wasn’t a thing we couldn’t do if we really put our minds to it.” Ricketts learned Belshaw’s lessons well; before she even graduated in 2005, “I had an agent and my first job,” which was playing Luce in The Comedy of Errors for the late, lamented Festival of the Arts in Oakville. After that, the hits, as they say, kept on a-comin’, with acclaimed performances in Born Ready, The Last Days of Judas Is- cariot and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Now she’s in the world of Lorraine Hansberry’s 1959 play about a black family struggling to find its way from the mean streets of Chicago to a home in an all-white suburb. Hailed as revolutionary at the time of its creation, it went through a period of disfavour, during which its Bible-quoting matriarch inspired the mockery of George C. Wolfe in The Colored Museum. But a 2004 revival starring Sean Combs proved Broadway dynamite and transferred to the small screen, earning three Emmy nominations. “I love the play and still find it empowering,” declares Ricketts, who plays the sister, Beneatha Younger. “Here’s this young chick and she’s calling her own shots, way ahead of her time. “I think it’s really wonderful that Soulpepper is doing a play like this and I’m proud to be in it.”
After that, the Stratford festival. Is she ready for it? “Whenever I start to think about that,” Ricketts gasps, “my head feels likes it’s about to burst right open. Let me open this play first, then worry about the next.” With any luck, she’ll have even more to be grateful for next Thanksgiving.