Review- Berkshire Fine Arts

Mark Favermann, Berkshire Fine Arts 04/10/2012

THE LUCK OF THE IRISH by Kirsten Greenidge

On rare ocassions, a play is greater than the sum of its various parts. This is true of The Luck of the Irish by By Kirsten Greenidge. The parts are great. The play is magnificent. This World Premiere play is a wonderful weaving of race, class and prejudice served by magnetic characterizations and often eloquently brilliant dialogue.

Playwright Kirsten Greenidge is an emerging star. She is both passionate and compassionate. Highly articulate, her deep and compelling thoughts are loudly quiet and quietly loud. This is a great play that should be seen and savored.

Being Black, no matter what class, was not easy in the Boston of the 1950s. Racial barriers were real and incideous. Particular restrictions designated where certain people could live, let alone flourish.

Based upon her own family’s history, The Luck of the Irish is a brilliantly conceived and intricately woven play. Using characters and dress, the play’s narrative goes back and forth between the 1950s and the near present 50 years later. This is a fully rendered statement of social and racial irony.

Upper middle class Blacks of the period had to resort to using ghost buyers to purchase housing in then white only neighborhoods and suburbs. In this story, with the cash Dr.Taylor has to use, ner’-do-well Irish-American Joe Donovan purchases a house in a Boston suburb. A fee was exchanged. Later the deed was to be quietly transferred to the Taylor family.

This ruse was actually an illegal act, a form of fraud, but unfortunately it was often the only way that blacks could buy in certain affluent or even just middle class neighborhoods. And this is the crux of the story.

Fifty years later, after the two elder Taylors die, the now elderly Donovans claim the house as “theirs” and want to evict one of the two Taylor granddaughters whose family now lives there, Hannah, and her family. At the same time, Hannah’s family wrestles with the contemporary and inherited racial and social issues that stem from being racially different in a primarily white community even in the so-called more enlightened 21st Century.

This is a play of subtlety and yet obviousness. The subtlety is expressed in the individual characterizations; the obviosness is the racial prejudice and sad history of segregation. The social and racial tensions of the ’50s still resonate if not linger today. In this extremely personal story by a gifted playwright, there is revelation of an unspoken and morally ambiguious, rather dark part of Boston’s history.

Spanning three generations and two time periods separated by five decades, The Luck of the Irish is a play that explores compelling stories of integration and the often conflicting notion of what home actually means.

The wonderful ensemble cast includes Nikkole Salter (last seen in the Huntington’s Stick Fly) as the elegant Lucy Taylor and skillfully unlikable Marianna Bassham and Nancy E. Carroll as Patti Ann Donovan across generations.

Dr. Rex Taylor is played with passionate skill by Victor Williams. McCaleb Burnett purposely fumbling portayal as the sad dreamer and lover of learning, the younger Joe Donovan was poignant. Richard McElvain characterization as the older Mr. Donovan was just as fumbling and yet mirrored the younger Joe.

Francesca Choy-Kee brilliantly played a multifaceted Hannah David in a very effecting way. She was perhaps the most well-rounded character. While Curtis McClarin as Rich was spot on as the engineering professional and the grounded husband. Shalita Grant’s portrayal of Nessa, Hannah’s younger sister, filled the stage and made the audience smile.

Individually, or as a group, the actors seemed natural and often too real. Their portrayals are what make theatre worth seeing.

Ms. Greenidge appears to be a direct inheritor of August Wilson’s dramatic legacy. At age twelve, she was inspired to become a playwright while attending a student matinee of the Huntington Theatre Company’s production of Joe Turner’s Come and Gone.

In an interview, she stated, “Previously I had wanted to write novels, but my notions of how black characters fit into American literature melted quickly into the gilt that surrounds the Huntington’s main stage when I sat in that theatre on a gray and rainy day. For the first time in my life I saw black people on stage who were there to tell stories. Complicated stories. Rhythmical stories. Stories that were at once proud, true, painful, and funny.”

Greenidge is a voice that is more developed, perhaps even more sophisticated and more universal than Wilson’s. Her thoughts and experiences are translated in ways that touch us all. She is certainly an artist to watch develop and to produce theatre.

Playwright Greenidge is a Huntington Playwriting Fellow and the author of several other plays. These include Bossa Nova, Milk Like Sugar, Rust, The Curious Walk of the Salamander, Sans-Culottes in the Promised Land, 103 Within the Veil, and The Gibson Girl. She is a part of an accomplished and acclaimed group of Huntington Playwriting Fellows being produced by the Huntington Theatre Company.

This production is smoothly directed in a social and chronological choreography. This Huntington drama is directed by Melia Bensussen. She is the recipient of an Obie Award for Outstanding Direction and has directed extensively around the country where she has worked on classics and collaborated with many of America’s leading playwrights. She is currently chair of the Performing Arts Department at Emerson College.

The Luck of the Irish is an important play about a number of serious issues. We can learn from it in many ways. It can enlighten us about ourselves, our history and understanding of a sometimes torn social fabric.

This is a play that should not be missed. Bravo!