Boston Benefits from THE LUCK OF THE IRISH
Written by Kirsten Greenidge; directed by Melia Bensussen; scenic design, James Noone; costume design, Mariann S. Verheyen; lighting design, Justin Townsend; original music and sound design, David Remedios
Cast in order of appearance:
Nessa Charles, Shalita Grant; Hannah Davis, Francesca Choy-Kee; Lucy Taylor, Nikkole Salter; Rex Taylor, Victor Williams; Patty Ann Donovan, Marianna Bassham; Joe Donovan, McCaleb Burnett; Mr. Donovan, Richard McElvain; Rich Davis, Curtis McClarin; Miles Davis, Antione Gray Jr. or Jahmeel Mack; Mrs. Donovan, Nancy E. Carroll
Extension ends Sunday, May 6, Huntington Theatre Company, Wimberly Theatre, Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street, Boston, MA; tickets start at $25 and are available online at www.huntingtontheatre.org, by phone at 617-266-0800 or at the Calderwood Pavilion and B.U. Theatre Box Offices
Two generations of personal and political ghosts have a hovering presence in Kirsten Greenidge’s haunting new play The Luck of the Irish now on stage through May 6 in the Wimberly Theatre at the Calderwood Pavilion, Boston Center for the Arts. The Huntington Theatre Company is presenting this tender and thought-provoking world premiere based on the true story of the Medford playwright’s own grandparents who in the racially divided Boston of the 1950s enlisted white friends from their culturally mixed South End neighborhood to “ghost buy” a home for them in the segregated, upscale suburb of Arlington.
Seeking better schools, quieter streets, and a three-bedroom piece of the American Dream, urban black families from the 1940s through 1960s made it a common practice to risk ostracism, assault, and even death by paying sympathetic white people to buy suburban homes for them and then turn over the deeds once they moved in – usually under cloak of night in order to prevent violence. Even the parents of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, unwelcomed as Jews in 1945, engaged in the practice, having their lawyer ghost-buy the Medford, Mass., home they wanted.
In The Luck of the Irish, Greenidge skillfully fuses the present and past, drawing parallels between the granddaughters who have inherited the hard-won family homestead and the grandparents who stood their ground against sometimes veiled discrimination, sometimes outright racial threats to stake their claim in suburbia. Greenidge brings lingering racial tensions to life anew when elderly working-class Irish couple Patty Ann and Joe Donovan – who fronted the purchase for Lucy and Rex Taylor some 50 years ago – come calling on the Taylor heirs to “take back their house.” This confrontation ignites long smoldering issues for granddaughter Hannah Davis, her husband Rich, son Miles, and sister Nessa. The apple, it turns out, doesn’t fall very far from the family tree.
As scenes from the past bump into and sometimes overlap scenes from the present, we see that young wife and mother Hannah (Francesca Choy-Kee) has inherited more than a three-bedroom Colonial from her grandmother Lucy (Nikkole Salter). She also possesses her grandmother’s intelligence, pride, and fierce maternal instinct. If she sometimes rails in situations where her husband, sister, and son take a more laid back approach, it springs from a determination to make life for her son better than what it was for her grandmother or mother. The former never felt at home in her home, even though she knew that living in the predominantly white suburbs meant better educational opportunities for her children. The latter as an adult retreated back to the inner city, finding comfort living among other black families even if it meant losing privacy, square footage, and a beautiful woodland view.