To know Nakia Secrest is to know a woman of incredible passion and zest for life. It is these qualities that she infused into the role of M. Gene in the Los Angeles production of the road weeps, the well runs dry by Marcus Gardley at the Los Angeles Theater Center.
The Haitian-American actress, singer and photographer grew up in Waltham, Massachusetts. Although she brings a smile to everything she does, her journey in life has not been without hardship. The day after her high school graduation, she survived a fatal car crash that left her in a coma for three days. This event was a turning point in her life and motivated her to “live life to the fullest!” she explained in an interview.
Nakia studied acting at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York. Some of the amazing women she has performed with in various productions over the years are Josephine Baker, Dorothy Dandridge, and Billie Holiday. Portraying all these beautiful, talented and strong women of color helped Nakia understand the character of M. Gene, the forceful and God fearing wife of Fat Rev, the town preacher. “My first impression of M. Gene was that of an independent woman who was desperate to be heard.”
During a rehearsal, playwright Marcus Gardley gave the cast background information on the play’s characters. It turns out that M. Gene is a survivor of the Trail of Tears, the ethnic cleansing and forced relocation of thousands of Native Americans from their land in 1830 by the U.S. government.
M. Gene is a survivor. A woman who had to carve out a place for herself in order to endure the loneliness and isolation that separated her from her family. Therefore, her character is guided by a strong need to hang on to “normalcy” or stability and she uses femininity and her Christian faith to recuperate what was taken from her.
Nakia feels that M. Gene understands that her adopted community in Wewoka, Oklahoma is “becoming increasingly divided by conflicts of the old and the new way – Christianity versus Native spirituality, women versus men, Black versus Native, full blood versus half blood, heterosexuality versus homosexuality.”
M. Gene believes that the only way to preserve a sense of unity begins by establishing strong Christian convictions. “There was a place for her in the new religion [Christianity]” explains Nakia. When the old ways or Native ways excluded her with their many rituals and storytelling, M. Gene found a “singular voice” in Christianity where she could direct all her questions. “Her fanatical religious nature [in the world of the play] shows how religions or ideas in general can be the cause of community and family separations even though they strive to achieve the same connectedness to oneself, family and nature.”
For Nakia, the play and the role of M. Gene gave her a deeper understanding about how people react to threats made on their communities. People want to belong to a partner, community, or nation and when this is threatened, there are many different reactions. M. Gene reacted by insisting that Christianity would preserve what was left of her family and home. “We truly all desire the same things,” says Nakia. “We just go after them in different ways.”