Caro Meets Theatre Interview

June Carryl: BLUE

By | Published on Friday 23 February 2024

Beginning a run shortly at the Seven Dials Playhouse is ‘BLUE’, which had a hugely successful run at the 2023 Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

It’s by US playwright and actor June Carryl, who also appears in this staging of the play, and who you’ve very probably seen on your screens given her large number of TV credits, most recently in ‘Mindhunter’ and ‘Helstrom’. 

‘BLUE’ focuses on racism and authoritarianism in American policing, as well as exploring the personal relationship between two old friends and colleagues. 

I was interested to find out more about the play, given its important themes, but also to find out more about the creator of it and her interesting career between stage and screen. I spoke to June ahead of opening night.

CM: Can you start by telling us about the narrative of ‘BLUE’ – who is it about and where does the story take us?
JC: ‘BLUE’ is about two old friends; one black, one white – both who work in the police force – who find themselves on opposite sides when the latter, a 29 year veteran, is involved in the death of a black motorist during a traffic stop.

That the black female investigator is married to the white male cop’s former partner makes later revelations that much more personal and, I hope, more complicated and charged. It’s basically two people stuck in a room, hashing out lifetimes of rage and betrayal.

CM: What themes are explored through the piece?
JC: It is at its heart a relationship play – two people trying to understand each other, maybe even seeing each other clearly for the very first time – but is also a play about racism, American policing and authoritarianism.

The three are inextricably linked in my mind. The institution of American policing evolved out of the slave patrols of the 1700s – this was a whole system founded with the express purpose of suppression through terror, which included hunting down, capturing and returning runaway slaves. It was state-sponsored terrorism. Think about the kind of person attracted to that?

And if one looks at the myriad deaths of people of colour at the hands of American police, you’re hard pressed to find the difference today. Only now some of the people doing the oppressing are themselves people of colour.

You take that and layer it onto a deeply personal relationship and hopefully something interesting happens.

CM: What made you decide to create a piece of work exploring these themes?
JC: I was just so angry. I sat and watched the storming of the US Capitol and I was just angry. I felt so betrayed.

I thought: “These people are so spoiled and entitled, they can’t hear no. Won’t hear no. Their way or no way. They would gladly burn it all down rather than share”. It was heartbreaking.

And to find out that some of them were cops. It just did me in. I was like, “Of course”. The need for control. Of the narrative, of everything.

CM: The play obviously deals with highly political issues. Do you think that performance and art can help to effect political and social change? Is that a motivation for you?
JC: I think all art is political. You are making your stamp, saying what you think the world is. You’re making the world, saying what is and isn’t true. Defining the consumer, the gaze, the bodies in question. What else is that but political?

It’s not so much that making a political statement motivates me. It’s just I want to be conscious and mindful of the political nature of what I get to do as an artist and be honest – at least on the page.

CM: When writing the play, did you always plan to perform in it?
JC: I didn’t, actually. I have pieces of mine I’d like to perform, which is weird and self-aggrandising, but we’re always writing our own stories, I think. This, however, wasn’t immediately one of them.

The actress who originated the role is Julanne Chidi-Hill. She’s this powerhouse with a beautiful deep voice and all these colours to her – vulnerability, but she can cut you if you’re not careful.

Michael Matthews, the director, said her name the first time we talked about doing the piece and I knew that was Parker. 

CM: The show had a very successful run at the Edinburgh Festival. Did you enjoy being at the Fringe? Would you go back?
JC: I had so much fun doing the Fringe, man!  The city is beautiful, the people are just lovely. Seeing all the work, all the possibilities for stories.

It had been a dream for a minute, and this show came along and I thought, well, it’s cheap: two actors, basically no set. When am I ever going to get the chance again?

And I was blessed and lucky enough to have really great friends and collaborators who believed enough in the play to make it a reality. 

I don’t know if I would do it again, only because I wouldn’t want to try to recreate what we had and I think I would be comparing anything that happened to the magic of that first time.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about yourself, now? What drew you to a career in the arts and how did it begin?
JC: I’m one of those people who didn’t find my true north until grad school and even then it was 20 years before I settled into believing this was my path.

I was meant to be a lawyer – criminal law. I went to Brown University and studied political science with the intention of going to Chicago School Of Law thanks to the designs of my mom’s best friend LaJeune and my history teacher, Ms Piascik.

Only I foundered in Poli Sci: loved all the theory, hated the numbers. I also came to realise in taking courses in law that there are no absolutes in the law: just winners and losers. I was good at it, I could write a mean products liability brief, but if I was going to be telling stories, I wanted them to mean something and not do damage.

I transferred to English Literature for graduate school, took a survey course in drama and wrote a play for a midterm that was my rebuttal to ‘Ubu Roi’ and was invited to the professor’s playwrighting class. Got drafted into a class assignment as an actor and that was that!

CM: As well as writing plays, and performing in theatre, you have of course done lots of TV and film during your career. How does live performance compare to the TV/film? Do you have a preference?
JC: The audience is the other actor in theatre – they’re indispensable. You know if you’re getting your point across; you know when you’ve lost them. It’s the most satisfying conversation!

There’s nothing like it. It’s really a high. I love TV and film for their size – it’s a smaller lens, much more intimate. But theatre is just always going to be my first love. 

CM: What have been the highlights of your career thus far?
JC: Making Keanu Reeves laugh while we were running lines. I doubt he’d remember: I had a bit part where I had to be his surly secretary and I kept interrupting him. He was so very nice! So kind and generous.

Getting to do a monologue on ‘Documentary Now!’ – an American mockumentary television series, created by Fred Armisen, Bill Hader, Seth Meyers, and Rhys Thomas.

It was so very funny! Just this subway attendant having a rant while Bill Hader recounts having to move, a la ‘Swimming To Cambodia’. It was incredible.

Working with David Fincher – he’s amazing. He can see where the possibilities lie in a scene and he pushes for that in the best way. He’s always right. It’s uncanny.

Getting to work with Taylor Reynolds, this brilliant stage director, on my play ‘N*GGA B*TCH’ at the Cell Theatre in New York.

Having this woman understand my brain and translate it so beautifully. And the experience with the actors and audience both times – we did it in two parts in April and November of last year – just made me feel like I’m crazy but not completely. Other people feel this way, too.

‘BLUE’. Michael brought the play to life in a way I hadn’t even conceived possible. John is amazing, the whole team is amazing – Betsy, Mark, Rebecca; folks from the last two rounds: Tarina, Kila, Sara, John Flynn, Guillermo and everyone at Rogue Machine – and the journey we’ve had with it just gives me hope this conversation is wanted.

CM: What aims and ambitions do you have for the future?
JC: I want to work with Steve McQueen, Jordan Peele and be in the ‘Knives Out’ franchise – hah! To get ‘BLUE’ to New York; to get my plays made; just to change the way black women are seen and to fix things in the world.

I was at a show once, and a black woman came up to me and said she’d seen the online presentation of ‘N*GGA B*TCH’, which is about being black and a woman in the US, and she said she felt seen. It happened again in New York and I thought, ‘okay, I’ve done my job’. I want to keep making a difference.

CM: What’s coming up next for you after this?  
JC: I’m writing a movie about my terrible upstairs neighbour. It’s a horror film. 

‘BLUE’ is on at the Seven Dials Playhouse from 5-30 Mar. Find more info and book tickets via the venue website here.  


Photo: David Adly Garcia