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Haitian actor to play lead in new play tackling mental health

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A Haitian-American actor is playing a lead character in the premiere of a new production debuting at The Bridge Theater on Jan. 16. Brooklyn raised actor, Nixon Cesar, plays a soldier back home, and fresh from a tour in Iraq in “Master of the Crossroads.”

The play follows his character Cornbread, who returns to find out that his wife has given birth to his child, while also suffering with a bout of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). But with a looming feeling that the child may not be his, and actually his twin brothers — a tale of deception and family drama ensues, said Cesar.

“Although the rumor is based on suspicion and not fact, he feels like he is losing his family and is unsure how to feel about this illegitimate child that he’s been told is his, but knows for sure isn’t,” he said.

But the infidelity plot is only part of the play’s main theme of approaching mental illness. Cesar, a graduate of Brooklyn College, says its a very eye-opening look on how it can affect an everyday family, and explores how mental disorders can further trigger other issues for certain men of color.

“The play really tackles PTSD, and a more broader aspect of how it affects African Americans who suffer from it,” said Cesar. “We are already live in an institution, where we deal with society and a police departments that have stipulations out on us, and coming home from a war into another war.”

The subject is one that Cesar is strongly concern with. He says despite many people readily accepting war and other blatant experiences as the causes of PTSD, they also fail to realize the smaller instances of how anyone can also be mildly affected by it.

“When I started doing research regarding PTSD, I found that it is closer to home because a lot of us either know someone close to us who’s had it, whether for long time or short term,” he said. “I’m passionate about mental illness more than anything because I’ve known people in life that deal with mental illness.”

He adds PTSD can come in many forms — several endured during childhood.

“Sometimes something extreme can happen in your life that makes you look at same situation or similar situation differently,” said Cesar. “There are people who’ve been abused at home, and they get older, do same to their children, so I want to say we all suffer some form of PTSD or another.”

The hour-long play also allowed Cesar to bring his own creativity into the role. Playwright Paul Calderon wrote the play in a way that made room for interpretation.

“The great thing about this play is Paul — when he wrote this play, he gave us the flexibility to interpret it in our own way,” he said.

And as a result, Cesar says he enjoyed bringing aspects of his Haitian heritage — specifically Haitian spirituality into the life of his character.

Cesar says the show ends on a relatable note, particularly for a story that sheds light about mental health and closely discusses issues people are familiar on.

“I think a lot of people will be able to relate to the ending of this play because it deals with heartache, sense of loss, and I think that’s something important a lot of people nowadays quietly deal with,” he said.

“Master of the Crossroads” at The Bridge Theater [244 W. 54th St. between Broadway and Eight Avenue in Midtown, www.brownpapertickets.com]. Jan. 16–Feb. 9, Wed–Sat., 8 pm. $18

Reach reporter Alexandra Simon at (718) 260–8310 or e-mail her at asimon@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @AS1mon.
Updated 11:50 am, January 9, 2019
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