After commencing minor on-camera appearances in the early ’80s, multi-talented African-American actress Regina Taylor juggled careers as a character actress and playwright with great aplomb. As both a thespian and a scribe, Taylor often dealt with material that grappled with race relations and civil rights. This was hardly accidental, for she rose up out of a bitter and tumultuous youth in the Deep South that forced her to face racism head-on and thus marked her for life. After an appearance as Mrs. Carter in John G. Avildsen’s uneven Joe Clark biopic Lean on Me (1989), Taylor first made members of the press sit up and take notice with her pivotal role on I’ll Fly Away. This thoughtful and heartfelt series drama — set in the apocryphal Southern town of Bryland in the late ’50s — starred the venerable Sam Waterston as D.A. Forrest Bedford, a conservative prosecuting attorney grappling with shifting attitudes about race relations as he took on a new black housekeeper, Lilly Harper (Taylor). The program’s consistent inability to land an audience, in spite of across-the-board critical acclaim, marked one of the most unfortunate events to befall a prime-time series program during the early ’90s.
Taylor returned to similar themes — albeit in a much earlier setting — with the 1995 Children of the Dust, a telemovie starring Sidney Poitier, about the tensions between black and white homesteaders. The actress also graced the casts of such noteworthy theatrical features as Spike Lee’s Clockers (1995), Ed Zwick’s Courage Under Fire (1996), and F. Gary Gray’s The Negotiator (1998) before hearkening back to television as military man Jonas Blane’s (Dennis Haysbert) beleaguered wife, Molly, on the CBS drama The Unit.
As a playwright, Taylor received her first significant break with the 1983 Watermelon Rinds, and spent the following decades authoring such critically acclaimed productions as Oo-Bla-Dee (2000) and Urban Zulu Mambo (2001). She debuted on Broadway in 2004 with her work Drowning Crow, a loose adaptation of Chekhov’s The Seagull posited in the Gullah Islands of South Carolina. At one point, she was reported to have been involved with the Broadway musical production of The Color Purple, but it was ultimately credited to other writers.