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Ruby Dee takes “Gift of Love” to Rialto

Ruby Dee

Ruby Dee

Theater preview
“A Gift of Love: The Ultimate Love Story”

8 p.m. Dec. 18. Additional showtimes are 3 and 8 p.m. Dec. 19-20. $45-$110. Rialto Center for the Arts, 80 Forsyth St., N.W., Atlanta.  404-413-9800,

By Adrianne Murchison
Ruby Dee has a gift for landing the perfect role. Her part in the 2007 film “American Gangster,” in which she played the mother of a real-life gangster portrayed by Denzel Washington, was set in Harlem, where she grew up. It was the backdrop for police riots and brutality that shaped the stage and screen actress’ consciousness and made her an activist in the civil rights movement.
Dee’s most recent role is as an African storyteller, Ya Ya, in the play “A Gift of Love: The Ultimate Love Story.” It opens today and runs through Sunday at the Rialto Center for the Arts. The song and dance production is co-hosted by actress Vivica Fox and gospel radio personality KD Bowe, and benefits the B-Moe Positive foundation for at-risk children.
Ya Ya sets the Biblical story of Mary and Joseph and the birth of Jesus. For Dee, who has a long held passion for African and American storytelling, Ya Ya is an expression of her own literal belief in universal love and peace.
“Ruby Dee has opened so many doors for people in theater and films,” said James Cockerham, who created the Rialto show. “Many children don’t know who she is, but all you have to say is, ‘Did you see “American Gangster? Well, she played Denzel Washington’s mother.’ And then they [get it].”
The 85-year-old actress has had a rich life. She is a member of the American Theater Hall of Fame. She and late husband Ossie Davis, married nearly 60 years (he died in 2005), were friends of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. In 2004, the couple received the Kennedy Center Honors.
But, in a recent conversation, Dee said that every life experience and achievement has brought her to simple realizations about humanity, which “A Gift of Love” speaks to.

What attracted you to this production?
It gives me great pleasure. Storytelling is something that my husband and I have done for so many years. This is the story of Jesus and the night he was born. And you don’t have to be of any particular denomination. Every religion has its own awesome story beginning, and they’re all equally attractive.

In recent years, you’ve worked with directors Spike Lee and Ridley Scott, not to mention the actors, what keeps you interested in acting?
I have this very satisfying thing going on as an older person. I sense that we are all kin, whatever the age. We might not express it exactly the same. But we understand this business of love. And I’m thinking we all are creative people; but I think actors specialize in this area of the human experience. The practice of acting keeps us digging. Every round goes higher and higher. Every shovel in the ground goes deeper and deeper. And the soil is each other. And so I find the creative process invigorating.

After being married to essentially your best friend for nearly 60 years, what has it been like to keep going without your husband, Ossie Davis?
I think of something he used to say, I think he got it from Nipsey [Russell], “Lost it, ain’t found it. Down it and get from around it.” In other words, without remedy, without regard, go on to what you can do. I’ve been telling myself that these last four years. No sense in crying. He had a great sense of humor. He didn’t believe in the crying.

And yet, I’m sure you feel connected to him.
Whenever I look at his picture, I say, “Well you know about it all now before me. And I want to know what it is like.” Because you have to know that we have to come from miraculous circumstances to be born in the first place. There’s a part of me that knows Ossie is saying to me, “You don’t know what death is and how amazing life is to encompass something like [the beauty of] death.”

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