Kevin Moore’s pursuit of a full-time acting career is getting a big boost as the Aliquippa graduate stars in a critically-praised production of “In The Heat of The Night” being staged weekends through March 11 in Pittsburgh’s Cultural District.
“Extremely well-written, well-acted, well-directed … It’s an important piece of theater,” said the arts and culture site ’Burgh Vivant in a review of Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Co.’s adaptation of the award-winning book that inspired an Oscar-winning film and Emmy-winning TV series.
Moore, 28, said he did not see any obstacles in playing a role immortalized on the big screen by the great Sidney Poitier.
“It actually liberated me to do it my own way, to have my own interpretation of the character,” Moore said. “I’ve never seen the movie or TV show and I hadn’t read the book, but everyone knows how Sidney Poitier said the iconic line, ‘They call me Mr. Tibbs.’ So that was definitely something to contend with, but it didn’t shake me. It’s funny because every time I say that line there have always been at least four people in the audience who say it with me. I’ve never had that experience on stage before, but it’s all fun.”
The production takes place in Pittsburgh Playwrights’ third-floor theater at 937 Liberty Avenue.
“We started rehearsing about a month ago and opened last week, so we had about three and a half weeks to put this show together so I really haven’t had much time to process the magnitude of the situation,” Moore said. “But I can say I’m happy and honored to play this role.”
Set in 1962 in a segregated Alabama town, his Tibbs character is arrested by police who accuse the black stranger of a murder.
“As it happens, Tibbs becomes the racially-tense community’s single hope in solving a brutal murder that is turning up no witnesses, no motives and no clues,” notes Pittsburgh Playwrights’ website.
While the story takes place more than a half century ago, “it’s extremely relevant to America today,” Moore said. “This show comments on a time almost 60 years ago and marks how far we’ve come but also the work that remains to be done as far as racism, classicism and sexism is concerned. While we, as Americans, have made strides to overcome those hurdles and treat people equally and fairly, it doesn’t mean the work is done. The past few years has highlighted the work that still needs to be done as far as Black people and other people of color, women, minorities and every other marginalized group are concerned. Marginalized groups and people are no longer willing to accept merely being tolerated and existing on the fringes. Not only do we want our equal share, but also our seat at the table.”
Moore thinks it is important for Beaver County residents to make the trek to Pittsburgh to see this show and other live performances.
“So much talent comes out of Beaver County and artists from these communities need the support of not only their friends and family, but also neighbors,” Moore said. “This play speaks directly to the residents of Aliquippa, where I’m from, where people have to overcome the doubts people have about them and still persevere, as well as all residents of Beaver County. If the story doesn’t speak to them directly, I absolutely think they will be able to find parallel and familiar experiences in this show. Also, while I don’t think this may be the best show for children. I think it’s important that parents introduce their kids to the arts and theater, specifically, as soon as possible because it’s a great avenue for expression and if they love it enough it could potentially be a career track.”
Moore, who graduated with a theater degree from Slippery Rock University in 2013, traces his passion for theater to his appearance in Aliquippa High’s “Once on This Island.”
“After that I took every acting class they offered,” he said. “When I got to Slippery Rock, I quickly became a theater major after doing my first Shakespeare play. Upon graduation, I was in the international premiere of the horror play ‘The Barwell Prophecy,’ written by one of my acting teachers, David Skeele, at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in Scotland. Then I joined Saltworks Theater company. They are a touring company that does social issue shows for youth audiences as well as adults. We’d perform for all the Pittsburgh public schools and surrounding areas as well as Ohio, West Virginia, New York, Philadelphia and Washington, DC.”
He has worked with a number of different companies inside and outside the city, such as PICT Classic Theatre, Throughline Theater and Pittsburgh Classic Players.
“Most of my experience has been in Shakespeare and Greek works, but I love to do comedy and contemporary works as well,” he said.
Monteze Freeland, director of “In The Heat of The Night,” hired Moore without an audition, having seen his award-winning work in a one-act play that was part of the Black and White Festival sponsored by Pittsburgh Playwrights, the leading producers of plays by Pulitzer Prize-winning Pittsburgh native August Wilson.
“Kevin is a quiet but focused actor who brings a calmness into the room which is appreciated when the rehearsal process can, at times, be hectic with different personalities involved,” Freeland said. “I cast him because I remembered his simplicity and I knew I needed that for the character of Virgil Tibbs, not someone who was interested in being a standout and playing at a character, but an actor who could serve the ensemble aesthetic I felt the show needed. It’s been a pleasure watching him work hard and craft the man he’s playing and I’m excited to see his growth throughout the run.”
Moore strives for a full-time career in acting, “which is why I love living in Pittsburgh so much. The theater community here is thriving,” he said. “So much great work is being produced year round, which makes it possible to be a part of something great. Pittsburgh has an open and accepting theater community that is constantly craving new and different voices and it doesn’t cost the arm and leg that New York or L.A. do to live, which is why so many artists are here. Pittsburgh is definitely on trend to being one of the premier theater cities and I’m happy to be a part of it.”