WHEN HAMPTON FLUKER was growing up in Atlanta, he dreamed of football stardom and a career in medicine. And then one day he happened to watch Glory, a film about the valor of an African-American infantry unit during the Civil War, featuring Denzel Washington. Fluker was impressed by Washington’s performance, but the 15-year-old also responded in a way that suggested the deep reservoir of self-confidence he would later draw on. “This is not hard,’’ he told his mother. “I can do this.’’
Since then, Fluker has learned how wrong he was about the first part of that youthful assertion — and how right he was about the second. At age 22, as he prepares to graduate in May from Boston University’s rigorous School of Theatre, Fluker has already left a distinctive mark on Boston with performances of uncanny technique and power.
His breakthrough year was 2011. After performing in two local productions, Fluker was cast in a pair of crucial roles in Company One’s high-profile stagings of Tarell Alvin McCraney’s trilogy The Brother/Sister Plays. In a stellar cast, Fluker shone the brightest, investing two very different characters with tonal and psychological complexity. As a calculating young man named Elegba in the first two plays, In the Red and Brown Water and The Brothers Size, Fluker created a kind of human riddle, always just out of reach. In Marcus; Or the Secret of Sweet, the actor drew on a remarkably wide expressive palette to portray the title character, Elegba’s son, a gentle teenager coming to terms with his gay identity while trying to assemble a mental portrait of a father he barely knew.
Fluker’s performances earned him an Elliot Norton Award from the Boston Theater Critics Association for outstanding performance by an actor in a small or fringe theater. And his star turn provided a vivid illustration of the opportunities local acting students can find at professional companies.
It helps, of course, if you have Fluker’s talent, ambition, and work ethic. He took on The Brother/Sister Plays while juggling a sizable BU course load, including a major Shakespeare project. “If you can do both and stay sane, why not do both?’’ says the soft-spoken Fluker during an interview at a Commonwealth Avenue coffee shop before rushing off for rehearsals of a student production of Thornton Wilder’s The Skin of Our Teeth.
After Fluker is gone, it occurs to me that, onstage or off, the words he has just used to describe McCraney and other young playwrights could also be applied to him: “There’s a fearlessness coming through now. A generation is speaking. These people are saying things that you’d never hear unless they were saying it.’’
>Fluker stars as Mr. Antrobus in Thornton Wilder’s Pulitzer-winning The Skin of Our Teeth, at Boston University Theatre, Friday through May 10. 617-933-8600, bostontheatrescene.com