Darius Wallace moved to Memphis to get away from the theater. But thankfully for Mid-South audiences, the full-time professional playwright and performer failed in his mission and has turned in numerous memorable roles, including Lincoln in Topdog/Underdog and Snug the Joiner in the Tennessee Shakespeare Company’s recent production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. On top of his work on a variety of Memphis stages, Wallace is constantly touring his solo performances based on historical characters such as Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. His most recent creation, Hold Fast, a semi-autobiographical piece, uses the story of a hard-working actor as a means of approaching King, Malcolm X, and the everyday people who inhabit the writings of Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes.
“At some point I realized the only thing I was qualified to do was be a security guard,” Wallace says. That’s why he started acting again in a city where it can be very difficult to make a living as a performing artist. “Or maybe I could go to work for FedEx handling boxes. I didn’t want to do that. I’m from Flint, Michigan,” he adds as an explanation for what he describes as a hustling, “blue collar” approach to making art and taking it on the road. Wallace says he began to rethink his approach to plays about historical characters while struggling with a ridiculous wig he bought while playing Frederick Douglass. “I never become Langston Hughes in this show,” he says. “I only play myself and characters from his poems.” — Chris Davis