Denée Benton of ‘The Gilded Age’ Shops in Her Backyard
“Oh man,” Denee Benton said, facing a metal workshop grate. “Everything is really closed.”
It was a frosty Tuesday morning in early January and Ms. Benton, a Tony-nominated actress who stars in the HBO drama “Golden age”, had come to Tompkins Avenue in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn to shop. On the program: candles, crystals, herbs, maybe also vintage clothes.
Blame Omicron or the cold or the post-holiday hangover, but almost all of Tompkins’ stores were closed.
“I don’t blame them,” Ms Benton said, as she gazed into the darkened windows of Ancient Blends Apothe’Care. “I like black people resting. But I wanted to buy some candles.
When Ms Benton, 30, first moved to New York in 2015 as a recent Carnegie Mellon University graduate, she found an apartment in the neighborhood. “I loved it,” she said. But when Broadway beckoned — first “The Book of Mormon,” then “Natasha, Peter, and the Great Comet of 1812,” then “Hamilton” — she moved to Manhattan.
During the pandemic, she read about the Black Bed-Stuy Building street markets. She visited them and fell in love with the neighborhood again, so in love that she and her husband, actor Carl Lundstedtfound an apartment there and moved back.
Despite the closed doors, she seemed determined to enjoy the day. “People are like, ‘What are your hobbies?’ I’m like, ‘I like to sit in the sun and take a slow walk and just grab something cute to sip.’ Amethyst and black tourmaline hung from his neck, golden hoops from his ears, a golden shadow encircling each shining eye.
AT Sincerely, Tommy, one of the few shops open, she went for that little something cute to sip, stopping to admire a faux tan skirt and a few other bobs. At the cafe opposite, she asked about the beetroot latte. The bar was out of beet powder, so she asked about a shot of lily. She was in no mood for CBD. She opted for an oatmeal and lion’s mane chai latte. The barista told her the drink would improve cognitive health.
“Concentrate,” he said. “Increased awareness and vigilance. That sounded good to Mrs. Benton.
Back on the street, she stopped and looked at the windows of a few other closed stores – peace and riot, Make Manifest BK – drinking his latte and spilling a few sips on his sleeve. (The awareness hadn’t started immediately.) Mopping up the spill, she passed another closed store, Byas and Leon. “Great vintage shop,” she says wistfully.
As she made her way, unhurriedly, to Herbert Von King Park – “I’m a mosey-er”, she said – she seemed completely at ease, in marked contrast to Peggy Scott, the character who she plays on “The Gilded Age”. .” As a black secretary in the White House of Agnes van Rhijn (played by Christine Baranski), Peggy stands out for her race. And at home with her wealthy parents, Dorothy and Arthur Scott (Audra McDonald and John Douglas Thompson), Peggy’s literary ambitions create further distance.
Ms. Benton responded to the character right away, as a black artist who often navigated white spaces. “I just felt an immediate reflection of myself in the tightrope she walks and all of her intersecting identities,” she said. “The tightrope hasn’t changed that much.” She also saw something inspiring in Peggy. “She’s trying to be the arbiter of her own freedom,” Ms Benton said.
In a first episode, Peggy tells her friend Marian: “For a New Yorker, anything is possible.” Ms. Benton, who modeled her character on 19th-century black writers like Julia C. Collins and Ida B. Wells, believes so. The question she has set herself for the year: “What happens if I don’t need to explain myself to anyone to be myself?”
After entering the park, Ms Benton chose a bench and tilted her face towards the sun. In the early years of her career, she said she was not always able to rejuvenate herself from the physical and emotional demands of acting. But she has since learned what works for her.
“Sitting on a park bench in the sun will give me enough energy to last through the day in a way that a Pilates class never will,” she said.
In addition to vitamin D, she now also believes in spiritual baths, physical baths, meditation, Yoni steam, Reiki. “I feel like actors need to do physical therapy for our souls,” she said. “Spiritual work has become vital for me because I feel like I still have something to pour out.”
Crystals also help. “I never thought I would be the woman with the crystal in my pocket or the crystal in my bra,” she said. “It’s not that I really wear more bras.” (When she wears one, she might tuck in a rose quartz.)
A few minutes of winter sun seemed to do the trick. She thought of another place to try shopping: Life Wellness Centera massage and acupuncture spa on Tompkins that also has a plant nursery and a store that sells crystals, candles, and bath bombs.
“This is my happy place,” she said. “They give the most amazing massages.”
As she approached, she saw signs of life. “I see a grid” she said. The website said the center opened an hour ago. But despite several knocks and shouts of politeness, the door was locked and the lights were off. No one seemed to be inside.
Ms. Benton took it in stride. “If I owned a store, I would sleep too,” she said.