Ahwatukee Foothills actor Rapheal Hamilton isn’t afraid to grunt and purr like the “Star Wars” character Chewbacca, but he’s taking on a more serious, human role in a play The Black Theatre Troupe will be performing this month.
But the 32-year-old actor is dropping the furry costume he wore in another production to play the character Ennis, one of the adult brothers in “Broke-ology,” a play by Nathan Louis Jackson about a close but poor African-American family in Kansas City, Kansas.
In the play, Ennis and his brother Malcolm struggle to take care of their father, William, a widower who has multiple sclerosis, while still trying to also pursue their own careers, relationships and dreams.
Ennis works at a restaurant and has stayed in the family’s hometown, but soon will become a father as his girlfriend is pregnant. Malcolm recently finished graduate school in Connecticut and is visiting their hometown, but is considering returning to Connecticut for a job.
“It’s this dynamic and this struggle between these brothers, who love their family but they also have their own lives to consider at the same time,” Hamilton said. “It’s very deep and the dynamics of showing the personal struggle between wanting to do what’s best for you and wanting to do what’s best for your family.
“It gives an honest perspective on what many people in the country are facing,” he added.
The play will be on stage starting Friday, Feb. 10, and running through Feb. 26 at Helen K. Mason Performing Arts Center on East Washington Street in downtown Phoenix.
While Hamilton’s taking on a heavy subject matter in “Broke-ology,” he doesn’t take himself too seriously.
He put on a furry costume to play Chewbacca in New Carpa Theater’s “American Pastorela: The Trumpifornication Tour,” a political satire about the national election and pop culture, last year.
Hamilton also played Chewbacca in another New Carpa Theater play, “American Pastorela: Everybody Wants to be Governor,” a political satire based on Arizona politics and pop culture about two years ago.
Hamilton said playing Chewbacca was “so much fun,” adding “laughter is good for the soul.”
He also played Arizona’s U.S. Senator John McCain in “American Pastorela: The Trumpifornication Tour” and John Huppenthal, former Arizona superintendentof public instruction, in “American Pastorela: Everybody Wants to be Governor.”
James Garcia, the producing artistic director for Phoenix-based New Carpa Theater, praised Hamilton for being “versatile” and fully committed to his acting.
“It would have been very easy for him to say, ‘Yeah, that’s just not in my repertoire; I can’t swing Chewbacca,’” Garcia, of Ahwatukee, said. “He dives right in.
“He’s always a joy to work with,” he added. “He’s serious about what he does, but doesn’t take himself too seriously.”
Hamilton also performed in another New Carpa Theater play, “AmericanDreamer: The Life and Times of RaúlH. Castro,”about the late former Arizona Governor and U.S. AmbassadorRaúl H. Castro. He played a teenager delivering newspapers.
“Broke-ology” director Anthony Runfola, who is also general manager for Childsplay, a Tempe-based theater with shows for youths, had similar praise for Hamilton. He said Hamilton is “emotionally open” and often jokes around with the other actors in the play.
“He’s very funny,” Runfola said. “He understands what’s funny.
“He’s really done a great job of finding the truth and the honesty of that character and understanding those choices that Ennis is making,” he added.
Runfola said though the play is dramatic, it has very funny moments, too.
Hamilton, who has performed in movies, as well as in many plays in the Valley and Memphis, Tenn.; where he grew up, laughed when describing how he got into acting by accident over a decade ago.
He said he was working as a host at an Applebee’s restaurant in Memphis, where the owner of a modeling and talent agency often came to eat.
“One day he stopped me and asked me if I modeled, and I was like, ‘Absolutely; I never thought about it,’” Hamilton laughed.
Later the modeling and talent agency owner asked him to audition for a commercial, and he got the part. Hamilton was 20 years old when he made his acting debut in a TV commercial for a jewelry store, playing the part of a man asking his girlfriend to marry him.
“It was so much fun,” Hamilton said. “It just takes you into a whole other place.
“You get to pretend again, like a kid,” he added.
Hamilton said the process of filming a commercial with the lights, camera and equipment also intrigued him. He had wanted to be a computer engineer as a child. Hamilton went to school for a couple of years at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, but got more interested in entertainment and broadcasting while taking classes there.
Hamilton later landed a part as the comic relief in a crime drama in an independent film shown in Nashville, and also got work as an extra in the movie, “Hustle & Flow.”
He says he was inspired by a playwright, director and comedienne, Irma Johnson, who he worked with in community theater plays in Memphis.
“Miss Irma was the one lady who saw me early on in my acting and really pushed me,” Hamilton said. “She said, ‘Never quit.’”
He’s happy to perform for the second time with the Black Theatre Troupe after having performed with them for the first time in the play, “Two Trains Running” in 2012. Hamilton said he played a man recently released from jail “trying to get his life back together” in that show.
He said he’s grateful to the Italian pizza restaurant Rosati’s on East Chandler Boulevard in Ahwatukee, where he works as a cook and is training to be a manager. His employer allows him to take the time he needs to go to rehearsals several nights a week for the play.
To take a breather from his hectic schedule, Hamilton likes to go hiking at South Mountain Park with his girlfriend and work out at EOS Fitness on East Elliot Road in Ahwatukee.
He said he loves living in Ahwatukee as it’s a friendly, peaceful community.
“It has everything you need within the area, a view of mountains, so many different things that are here,” Hamilton said. “Everyone seems very kind. It makes me feel like I’m back down South.”