The night before Stacey Sargeant auditioned for the role of a secretary in Nantucket Sleigh Ride, she had an inspiration. “I had been practicing the material in my regular voice,” she told me before a weekend matinee, “but then I had an idea. I was sitting on my couch, and I started thinking about my dad, who passed away more than a year-and-a-half ago. He said, ‘Make her from Trinidad.” 

Sargeant complied. “I thought: at the audition they’re either gonna love it or think I’m crazy but this is my choice. As soon as I said the first line, they lost it in the room with laughter.” 

Sargeant, who just received a Drama Desk nomination for Best Actress in a Musical for Rags Parkland Sings The Songs of the Future, has an ear for accents: “I think of them as music, as songs,” she said. The accent she employed for the secretary was an especially familiar tune. “My dad is from Trinidad and my mom is from Tobago, so I grew up, in Brooklyn, hearing those sounds. I didn’t realize I had that accent until I went to school and people would make fun of how my parents talked. I would go home and correct my parents’ accents.”

Sargeant’s upbringing informs the autobiographical solo show she is developing. Called “Buh Wha Trouble Is Dis? (Or The Exhumation of MC Spice),” the project tackles themes of racism, show business, and body image, and is told in verse and prose. The piece, Sargeant said, “explores how a first-generation daughter of Caribbean immigrants growing up in 1980s East New York, Brooklyn, can embody her truest self, conquer her demons of self-doubt, and strive to achieve some of her wildest dreams.”

Why develop this show? Sargeant replied: “It’s important for us to find agency as actors. Most of us are always waiting for the phone to ring. That’s not an empowering feeling. If you have a story that’s worth telling and can change lives then you should go for it. As actors, we are vessels for other people’s stories. Why not be our own vessels?”

In Nantucket Sleigh Ride, Sargeant plays not only a secretary – whose top-of-act-two monologue has tickled the audience every time I’ve seen the play – but a cop in Nantucket. Sargeant shared with me part of the back story she created for the character. “I say that she’s not really a police officer. She’s an actor pretending to be a police officer. There are too many clues at her crime scene that she would have picked up on if she were a real cop. I imagined that she knew someone on the force and borrowed a uniform.”

Having attending LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and the Performing Arts, right behind Lincoln Center, Sargeant is familiar with the neighborhood of her current assignment. She was less familiar with her cast members. She met Adam Chanler-Berat at an off-Broadway opening a few weeks before the start of Nantucket rehearsals. And she worked with Will Swenson on another John Guare show: a musical adaptation of Two Gentlemen of Verona, in Central Park.

“I’ve had a great time getting to know everyone,” Sargeant said, “and to be in this production.” Mentioning her memorable act-two monologue, Sargeant added, “It’s gold for me. I think I’m the only person, other than John [Larroquette], who has time alone onstage. “It’s a treat to do it every night. I feel so lucky.”

 

Brendan Lemon is the editor of lemonwade.com