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August 21, 2014, 8:04 am

Frank X shines in play set during apartheid

Lantern Theater Company concludes its theatrical season with “The Island,” a play by renowned South African collaborators Athol Fugard, John Kani and Winston Ntshona. Running through June 10, the play features Philadelphia actors U.R. and Frank X in a vivid portrayal of apartheid-era struggle and political oppression.

The Island is Robben Island, South Africa’s notorious prison, where Winston (U.R.) and John (Frank X) are political prisoners and cellmates. After absurdly grueling days laboring under the sun, the men return to their dark cell to rehearse a makeshift performance of Sophocles’ play “Antigone.”

“This is a powerful theater piece, directed by Peter DeLaurier,” says Frank X. “As an actor himself, Peter is able to come from the actor’s point of view and help us create believable characters who have a clear story to tell.”

A trained actor, playwright and dancer, Frank X is a native Philadelphian who originally planned to go into medicine. He says, “My father was a doctor and so I was told at a very early age that I wanted to be one, too. You see, back then I was never asked what I wanted to be, but told what I wanted to be. And so I bought into it, and because I always loved the sciences, I didn’t fight it too much.”

But he also loved the idea of being a writer, and later an actor. So although he began his college training at Johns Hopkins, he later transferred to New York University to attend its unique dramatic writing program.

“And once there, my professors at NYU pushed me toward acting, and so I thought I might try it for a time. In class, they encouraged me to read other people’s scripts and audition whenever I could.”

But perhaps, he admits, the desire to act was always there. “One Christmas a friend took me to see a production of ‘The Elephant Man.’ I was so blown away with it and couldn’t shake it off for a long time. And that’s when I realized what the theater could do to people and decided I wanted to be part of it,” he recalls.

Today, Frank X has made quite a name for himself in the theater. He has performed widely throughout the area with theaters including InterAct, Azuka, Arden and the Lantern.

He received the Barrymore Award for Best Actor for his performance in “Lonely Planet,” as well as Barrymore nominations for four roles at the Lantern.

He has also performed regionally at the Humana Festival, Seattle Rep and the Folger Theater.

His current role, he says, offers a variety of challenges, which he is taking in stride while offering a strong message to his audience.

“There’s a saying that I really like which goes like this: The story is what the plot is about, but the theme is what the play’s about. So here we have a play about apartheid, of course, but it seems to me the play is really about how you stay committed to your ideas in a world that seems meaningless.

“Here are two men,” he continues, “just suffering without any sense of justice or end to their suffering. How do they get up in the morning and go about their business, which begins with them digging a hole on a beach and dumping sand into the other man’s hole. So their work is never done.”

When this play ends, Frank X looks forward to doing many more, admitting he’s always learning and always dedicated to doing his best. “When I first got out of college, I thought if I became a halfway decent actor, all roles would be open to me.”

He admits now that he was quite naïve about the role his color would play in being chosen. “But every once in a while it proves true, and when it does, it is quite wonderful.”

For times and ticket information, call (215) 829-0395.