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Hollywood Soapbox INTERVIEW: Deonna Bouye returns to Two River for ‘A Thousand Maids’

Deonna Bouye, an in-demand actor, has found an artistic home at Two River Theater in Red Bank, New Jersey. Previously, she appeared in Guadalupe in the Guestroom, The Revolving Cycles Truly and Steadily Roll’d, and now she’s back in Central Jersey for the world premiere of A Thousand Maids, written by Tony Meneses and directed by Aneesha Kudtarkar.

The comedy, which runs through April 28 at the Marian Huber Theater, centers on the character of Cordelia, who is trying to design a new maid costume, according to press notes, but she keeps thinking about the depictions of maids in movies, such as The Help and Maid in Manhattan. She’s interested in showing the value of these women and being authentic to their legacy. In the show, Bouye plays the role of Butterfly, based on the story of Butterfly McQueen, who appeared in many movies and TV shows.

“When I first read it, I liked how inquisitive she was,” Bouye wrote in an email interview about Butterfly. “She’s written as a truth seeker and a lover of words. She also made me laugh. I’d known the actress from her work in Gone With the Wind and Beulah, but after reading the play, I wanted to know more about her life.”

The actor said that Meneses’ characters are immersed in self-reflection, voicing their struggles to the other characters and audience members. Bouye sees these roles as real people who are working through something and making discoveries in the moment. This play also brings up serious topics like opportunity, representation and the exclusion of women of color. Ultimately, the actors are trying to find the humanity of domestic labor, the actor stated, and also scrutinize its depiction in Hollywood.

“I also appreciate how he writes about the nuances of race, class and power,” she stated of the playwright. “He weaves it in to each character’s unique voice. His writing is playful, warm and smart.”

When Bouye and the company are working on a new play, such as A Thousand Maids, the audience reaction is key. In fact, the actor called the theatergoers the last piece of the complex puzzle. “We don’t truly know what the play is until they receive our offering,” she wrote. “I learn more about the play with every single performance. The audience teaches me about my character and about the play’s impact. They are collaborators.”

Bouye has kept coming back to Two River because the regional theater has given her a “creative hug.” She called the team members around her — including the creatives, crew and staff — kind and caring, perhaps the kindest and most caring she’s ever encountered in the theater business. For Bouye, working on such a project seems like validation for her decision to enter the arts in the first place.

“I was a very imaginative child,” she wrote. “Pretend play was my favorite form of play, and I would get lost in it, alone, for hours and hours. In adolescence, when it was time to shift the focus and energy from my imaginary worlds to real life, I wasn’t ready. I wanted to keep playing. I didn’t find the theatre until college, but instantly knew it was home.”

Bouye added: “Theatre not only reignited the childhood play, but it gave me a purpose. I found a strong  connection to myself, to others and to the community. I was like, ‘OK, I’m gonna do this storytelling thing with my life — so I’ll try to get people to pay me for it, so I can spend more time doing it.’ And, here we are.”

By John Soltes / Publisher /

A Thousand Maids, written by Tony Meneses and featuring Deonna Bouye, runs through April 28 at Two River Theater in Red Bank, New Jersey. Click here for more information and tickets. Emailed responses have been slightly edited for style.