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Everyman Theatre actor embraces new role as the underdog

Eric Berryman, Everyman Theatre actor
Eric Berryman, Everyman Theatre actor - Handout
As the son of a “theater mom,” Baltimore actor Eric Berryman was happily never under any pressure to choose a more traditional career path.
“I didn’t have a parent who said you should be a doctor," says Everyman Theatre's newest and youngest resident member.
“She’d get off work — she sometimes worked two jobs, sometimes three — and come to pick me up at rehearsal in the middle of school,” Berryman says of his mother. “She was the epitome of a theater mom.”
Berryman, 24, plays Booth, one of the two troubled brothers in Suzan-Lori Parks’ play "Topdog/Underdog." It runs until May 19.
Berryman started his acting training at Loch Raven Academy, where, he recalls, he learned to put together a professional resume in middle school. After graduating from Baltimore School for the Arts in 2007, Berryman attended the Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama in Pittsburgh, where he was awarded a $50,000 fellowship from the Annenberg Foundation. He recently chatted with BmoreMedia about his new role. 
You’re a classic Baltimore success story.
I think so! On paper, I don’t think I should be where I am.
Where should you be?
I guess statistically, you see young African-American male, city upbringing, single parent environment, no father in the home. I should be someplace I’m not. A friend of mine is in prison right now. His father was murdered. It was tragic to hear about it. We were infants together.
How did you get on this track? Luck? Personality? Because you weren’t named Booth?
I’ve been the same person since I was a kid. So goal-oriented, so driven. My mother kind of got me into astrology. I think the stars aligned in my favor. I’m a Capricorn, I feel like everything you read about us is true.
You land on your feet.

Oh yeah.
Is there a chance that your mom fed you this idea of who you are, so it became a self-fulfilling prophecy?
It wasn’t like we were talking about astrology when I was five, but I think she definitely knew what kind of person I was, and knew when to step back and when to support. I always wanted to play sports. I wanted to be a quarterback. I brought the permission slip to my mother to join the football team. She looked at the slip, she looked at me, she said, “You don’t want to play football, stick to acting, you won’t get hurt that way. “
Do you know anyone like Booth? Is there part of him in everyone?
There’s part of him in me. He’s familiar. These are people I saw up the street from my grandmother’s house.
In creating Booth’s character, can you draw on your own experience of not having a dad?
No, I can’t. That’s a really weird thing. My father and I reconnected a year or so ago – through Facebook of all things. It was freaky.
Was that great, or like a punch in the stomach?
It was interesting. I told my father, “I’m not angry at you in any way. I like my life. You weren’t there, but I’m doing quite well.” I had just graduated from college. I got honors. I said, “If anything, I thank you for your lack of presence.” Who knows where I’d be?
Those three women who raised me, they did a really great job. My mother doesn’t have any remorse either. She says if he’d been around, I’d be in every sport known to man. She told me, “You’ll be surprised at how alike you are.” He picked up the phone and he goes, “Mi-ster Berryman,” (deep and formal) I thought wow, that’s something I would do.
Tell me about Booth.
Booth is your typical younger brother. He looks up to his older brother, is always trying to break out of his older brother’s shadow. He’s vibrant and has a youthful spirit, but is a bit of a narcissist. The brothers were 16 and 11 when their parents left them. He was essentially raised by his brother on the streets.
He’s a little delusional too.
His delusion comes from his desire to be loved and wanted by other people.
So what is the play about?
It’s about knowing where we came from and letting – or not letting – it affect our present so it doesn’t hinder our future. Both characters have love. They want it and want to give it. But they have a hard time sifting their way through it
What’s the significance of naming the characters Booth and Lincoln?
The director Jennifer Nelson works at Ford’s Theatre, she brought a historical perspective to our rehearsal process. I read a book “My Thoughts Be Bloody” [by Nora Titone] about the sibling rivalry between Edwin Booth and John Wilkes Booth. It almost parallels these brothers. John Wilkes Booth was a younger brother, and was always seeking to be what his brother was. When he killed Lincoln, he was expecting fanfare.
Is there anything that offends you, or that you feel plays on stereotypes of the black male?
The only thing that would offend me is for someone to come to this play and not realize that this is real. This is life. This is as real as Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons,” as real as our last play “God of Carnage.”
This isn’t a safe play. We need to see things that allow us to be uncomfortable. At every show, people leave at intermission. I have no idea why; maybe they feel sick, maybe they don’t like the language.
Is that hard for you?
Not at all. My thing is, you may have an audience full of people who want to leave, but in every audience, there’s one person – this is their show. That’s the person. I’ve done my job for the day. Ultimately I am a healer. That’s what an actor is: a person who provides laughter if you are feeling down: a person who can provide a cathartic moment for you, a person who can awaken a part of your mind that was dead.

Martha Thomas is a Baltimore-based freelance writer who is lucky enough to write about the things she loves: food, beautiful homes and the arts. She has written for Baltimore magazine, Baltimore City Paper, Urbanite, Travel & Leisure and the Washington Post.
Photos courtesy of Everyman Theatre
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