To many artists, live theatre can be a healing experience—being in the presence of people open to hearing what you have to say can be an affirmation of why you continue to make art. That’s especially true for actor Moses Ingram. In 2022, Ingram shot to mainstream fame when she played Reva, an officer of the Galactic Empire and an antagonist of Obi-Wan Kenobi, the Disney+ Star Wars spinoff series. For many actors, it would have been a dream project. But for Ingram, it was deeply painful. Though she enjoyed filming the series, when it was released, she received hundreds of hateful messages from people who were angry at the presence of a Black woman in the galaxy far, far away. She also received death threats.
“For a long time, I hated admitting that it affected me at all,” she explains. “I was bothered, because I felt like, ‘Oh, it made me look soft.’ They made me look like I have feelings. And the truth is, I do.”
Ingram is currently playing a character living in this galaxy in the Dominique Morisseau play Sunset Baby, running Off-Broadway at Signature Theatre until March 10. It is her New York stage debut. As someone who once feared looking vulnerable, there is nothing more exposing than standing up on the stage in front of a live audience. And yet, it’s exactly what Ingram has been needing.
“It's nice to be in the room with people, who are coming into the room with love and wanting to experience something and feel something,” enthuses Moses, “This experience has been really healthy, and an opportunity to really stand in all of me. It's been really healing.”
Though Ingram may be more well-known these days for her television work (she was nominated for an Emmy Award for her work in The Queen’s Gambit), she had her training in theatre at the Yale School of Drama. She played Viola in Twelfth Night at Yale Repertory Theatre and was in Morisseau’s Detroit ’67 at Chautauqua Theater Company. That’s where she met Morisseau and Sunset Baby’s director Steve H. Broadnax III.
Sunset Baby was first produced in 2013 at Labyrinth Theatre Company Off-Broadway. The play follows a young woman named Nina, named after Nina Simone. Both of Nina’s parents were key players in the Black Power movement, who prioritized revolution over their family. After Nina’s mother dies, she reconnects with her estranged father and decades of bitterness and resentment comes to the surface, as well as questions of how to move forward and heal in the face of generational trauma. The play doesn’t have any easy answers on how to balance the necessary act of revolution with the messy work of being a human.
“Dominique always says, ‘Being an activist, it doesn't come with a promise of you getting to experience that in your lifetime.’ It’s a great sacrifice of a life,” says Ingram. “I do feel the people closest to the movement suffer in some ways. But it's a part of it, it must be done.”
Ingram first encountered the play in college and since then, she’s always wanted to play Nina. She was too young when she was in her early 20s. But now at 29, approaching 30, Ingram understands some of Nina’s world-weariness and distrust of others.
“Depression in Black women most times shows up first as irritability and agitation,” explains Ingram. “And so, it's easy to be like, ‘Oh, it's just an attitude.’ But it's actually a deep sadness and weariness.”
While Nina is angry for a majority of Sunset Baby, the show is also about her learning how to trust again, and just how difficult it is to be soft and vulnerable in a world that forces Black women to stay hard. For Ingram, that slow opening up makes Nina a compelling and relatable character to play. “Having had a few audiences now, I've had a lot of people come up after and be like, ‘Oh, it's just good to see someone be as mad as I am,’” says Ingram. “I feel like a lot of times in theatre and media, we want to hide those parts. Because we go, ‘Oh, it’s stereotypical, always this, always that.’ But it's a real thing. And those stories matter.”
This story matters so much for Ingram that she is even performing the show on her birthday. Playbill spoke to her on her birthday February 6, while she was getting ready for the evening’s performance. After, she was going to celebrate turning 30 by having dinner with her partner.
After Sunset Baby, Ingram will next appear opposite Natalie Portman in the Apple TV+ series Lady in the Lake. As for season two of Obi-Wan Kenobi, she says, "I personally haven't heard anything about a season two."
When asked what the actor wants in this next decade of her life, she responds humbly, with no hesitation. “Great work. And in my personal life, loving my family, making sure my home is my home. I feel like at this point in my life, it's fast paced, and I'm a little bit everywhere and all over the place. But I don't mind it right now. But at some point, home, family. And continuing to do good work and hopefully making more work for other people.”