When the Chickens Came Home to Roost

Denzel Washington and Kirk Kirksey in When the Chickens Came Home to Roost

Presented in a single evening as “Two One-act Plays by Laurence Holder” with Zora

From the New York Times a decade after the play ran…

Washington’s journey to understanding Malcolm X began 11 years ago, when he portrayed the black leader in the Off Broadway production “When the Chickens Came Home to Roost,” a play about the relationship between Malcolm and his mentor, Elijah Muhammad, founder of the Nation of Islam. Washington’s motivation then for taking on Malcolm was the $125 weekly paycheck. He had been only marginally aware of Malcolm and hadn’t even read his autobiography.

“I didn’t have a view of Malcolm then,” Washington admits. He pauses, trying to recall his first reaction while preparing for the stage role, to reading books and articles by and about Malcolm, listening to hours of tape and watching film footage of Malcolm’s speeches: “I remember feeling two ways: Like this was heavy, mean stuff and also like this was helping me get some things off my chest. There was something invigorating about being able to say things you felt. I remember thinking what it must have felt like to be so free to be able to say anything. It must have made for tension.”

Washington’s stage performance was a critical success. Frank Rich of The New York Times wrote in his 1981 review that Washington’s “firm, likable performance” portrayed a Malcolm that was “honorable and altruistic without ever becoming a plaster saint.”

Play presented as part of the 1980-81 Season

Play opened June 18, 1981

Credit Artist Photo
Playwright Laurence Holder
Director Allie Woods
Stage Manager Gwendolyn Marshall
Set Designer Robert Edmonds
Lighting Designer Allen Lee Hughes
Costume Designer Judy Dearing
Actor Denzel Washington Denzel Washington
Actor Kirk Kirksey

All 1980-81 Season productions: