ALBANY, N.Y. >> Sometimes what seems a step backwards can actually be a leap forward.
That's the case with Sadrina Renee, an actress who is playing the mean daughter-in-law, Jessie Mae, in the Capital Repertory Theatre production of "A Trip to Bountiful," which begins previews tonight. Press opening is Tuesday.
Renee fell in love with acting during high school. It became her major in college and after graduation she moved to New York City to start her career. Because of her work in Off-Broadway productions and at professional regional theaters she was soon accepted into Actor's Equity, the professional actors union.
However, like so many talented actresses, Renee found it difficult to secure enough work as an actress to support herself in New York. In 2011, she and her husband, Joseph Carusone, made the decision to move back to his home region — the Capital District — and settled in Delmar. It meant giving up her dream of being a professional actress.
"I was exhausted and just had to take leave," she explained. "I decided it was time to settle down and take a job in the 'real' world."
She went to work as business manager of Bullard, McLead and Associates Inc., a financial planning and investment advising firm.
It turns out, the job helped facilitate her return to the world of professional theater.
She says, "When I saw the audition notice for 'The Trip to Bountiful' at Capital Rep all the juices returned. It is one of my favorite stories. It's a lovely, beautiful and inspiring play and I knew I had to be in it."
Because Bullard, McLeod and Associates, Inc. is a generous supporter of the arts and in specific to Capital Rep (the are the corporate sponsor for "The Trip to Bountiful") and as business manager for the firm Renee had business dealings with Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill, the Artistic-Producing Director of Capital Rep and the director of "Bountiful."
"When I showed up for the audition Maggie looked at me kind of strange and in the kindest way asked me 'What are you doing here?' I guess seeing me in a different light surprised her."
Apparently it also impressed her. Mancinelli-Cahill says she knew immediately that Renee would be perfect for the young woman who constantly thwarts her older mother-in-law's dreams and was determined to cast her.
The problem was how the actress could maintain a professional rehearsal schedule without quitting a job that is also perfect for her. Mancinelli-Cahill took on the role of intermediary for Renee and worked out a schedule with her supportive employer that permits Renee to appear in the play and still do her job.
Five years after giving up her dream the actress has a major role in a professional production. She has a job she adores and is working for people she loves. Best of all she says, she is mother to a young boy about to turn three years old. She is also happy to report that the professional acting community has embraced her and their encouragement has her believing she will find other local opportunities to show her talent.
Renee says the work on "Bountiful" has been both challenging and fulfilling. "It's really fun to play a character that I see is so different from who I think I am," says the bubbly actress.
"The Trip to Bountiful" is about Carrie Watts, an elderly widow who is living unhappily with her weak son, Ludie, and his wife, Jessie Mae. Jessie hates Carrie to the point she will not even permit her to sing spirituals in their Houston apartment. Carrie longs to visit the town of her youth that she remembers with fondness but which, in reality, no longer exists.
One morning Carrie sneaks off and takes a bus to Texas. On the journey she meets a lot of people whom she is able to counsel and learn from.
Though Jessie Mae seems to have no redeemable qualities Renee feels differently. "People who are villainous are so for a reason," she says. "I refuse to accept that people are evil without something happening to cause it." She stops, laughs and says," It's a silly comparison and I probably use it because I have a three-year-old son, but even Darth Vador had a reason for being bad."
The Capital Rep cast is African-American but Renee is adamant that Carrie's story is universal. Her point is validated by the fact that the white actress Geraldine Page won the Oscar for Best Actress playing Carrie in the 1985 film and the African-American actress Cicely Tyson won the Tony Award for the role in the 2013 Broadway revival.
"The play says sometimes you have to run away from home to find it again. I see the play as telling my story about having to leave New York in order to find theater again."
What: "The Trip to Bountiful" by Horton Foote. Directed by Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill
Where: Capital Repertory Theatre, 111 N. Pearl St., Albany, N.Y.
When: Tonight through May 15 (press opening, Tuesday). Evenings — Tuesday through Thursday at 7:30; Friday and Saturday at 8. Matinees — Saturday at 3; Sunday and May 4 at 2
Tickets: $55-$20 (students with ID — $16)
How: (518) 445-7469; capitalrep.org