THEATER FOR THE NEW CITY: "AN AMERICAN FAMILY TAKES A LOVER" BY AMINA HENRY
Front: Tiffany Greene. Behind: Lila Donnolo and Bob Jaffe. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.
November 7 to 17, 2013, Theater for the New City, 155 First Ave. (at East 10th Street). Presented by Theater for the New City
Thursdays through Saturdays at 8:00 PM, Sundays at 3:00 PM. $15 general admission. Box office (212) 254-1109, www.theaterforthenewcity.netRunning time: 100 minutes.
"An American Family Takes a Lover" by Amina Henry is a dark, dark comedy that peeks into the household comprised of an upscale American couple, Richard David and Lady Anne, and their "other person," a young Black woman named Justine who has been enslaved by them.
The arrival of a handyman to fix a hole in the wall sets off a series of developments that tear this cockeyed family apart in an absurd parable that explores The Stockholm Syndrome through a sexual and racial lens. Theater for the New City, 155 First Ave., will present The Cell Theatre Company's production of the play November 7 to 17. It's a premiere run, directed by Kira Simring, Artistic Director of The Cell Theatre Company (founding Artistic Director Nancy Manocherian), where the piece was originally incubated.
This play could be a love child of Eugene Ionesco and Adrienne Kennedy, with its absurd situation and its surreal race consciousness. It bemusedly paints the role of Black women in white society through the metaphor of captivity bonding. This would be a metaphor fit for the Marx Brothers if it didn't have such a disturbing ring of truth. The term refers to the psychological phenomenon of hostage situations in which the captive identifies with and actually defends the captor. These seemingly irrational feelings, widely known as The Stockholm Syndrome, are widely seen when one person intermittently beats or abuses another.
In the comedy, a young girl named Justine has been locked up in a white couple's home as a slave for an untold number of years, taking pride in her place in the family and mistaking any lack of abuse from her captors for an act of kindness. When the handyman is called to the house to fix a hole in the wall, he catalyzes a slow, gradual process in Justine by which she begins self-actualize and withdraw from this cruel nest.
Playwright Amina Henry is a first generation American of Jamaican descent who grew up in Mt. Vernon, NY and earned her BA at Yale in English and Film Studies. She relates that this play was written after Barak Obama was first elected President, writing "Now there are no excuses to remain complacent. Yet young black women still seek to be in the music videos and viewed as sex objects, we want to shake our bodies in our underwear so that men will tell us that we’re beautiful and loved. We link power with our sexuality. I think that this play touches on how far we have yet to go, but also how necessary it is for us to really empower ourselves since no one will do it but us."
Ms. Henry came in to theater as an actress, performing in children's shows and experimental theater. She moved into playwriting after a spate of teaching artist work, volunteering in correctional facilities in New York, and undertaking her Masters in Performance Studies at NYU. Now she is an adjunct professor at Brooklyn College and Literary Associate of The Civilians, a troupe that specializes in investigative plays.
"An American Family Takes a Lover" was given a staged reading as part of The Hive Exposed Series in 2010. It was subsequently incubated and workshopped by The Hive Theater and The Cell Theatre Company, where Ms. Henry is a resident artist. Her other recent productions include "Water," produced by Drama of Works at the Old Stone House (August 2013) and "The Minstrel Show," produced as part of the 2013 Bring a Weasel and a Pint of Your Own Blood Festival at Classic Stage Company ( September 2013). Her work has also been developed by Oregon Shakespeare Festival, The Brick, HERE Arts Center, HERO Theatre, Shakespeare’s Sister Company and Brooklyn College. She was a 2012-2013 Core Apprentice playwright at The Playwrights Center and a 2013 Finalist for the Leah Ryan FEWW Playwriting Prize for her play "Bully." In September 2013, she was a featured playwright at the Black and Latino Playwrights Conference at Texas State University. Her publications include "Hello, My Name Is Joe," which has been read at a number of theaters in a number of states and countries as part of the Gun Control Theatre Action organized by playwright Caridad Svich. Ms. Henry is also an Affiliate Artist in Brass Tacks Theatre Collective and a member of HERO Theatre.
Director Kira Simring has developed and directed many new plays as the Artistic Director of the cell, A Twenty First Century Salon ™ in the Chelsea district of Manhattan. Other NYC credits venues include The New Theatre Row Theatres, City Center's VOX at NYU's Skirball Theatre, The Thalia Theatre at Symphony Space, 80 St. Marks Theatre and The Midtown International Theatre Festival. She has directed regionally at CenterStage in Baltimore, The Philadephia Fringe Festival, New Village Arts in San Diego, and Luna Sea Theatre in San Francisco, California. She earned an MFA at New School University and a BA at Smith College.
The Cell, A Twenty First Century Salon™, founded in 2006 by Nancy Manocherian, is an incubator for creative projects with a strong commitment to cultivate undiscovered artists. It is located at 338 W 23rd Street, where it has created residencies for diverse music, literary, and theatre groups. Manocherian is a lyricist, playwright and producer whose writing credits include "Rio, a Brazilian musical novella" (Theater for the New City) and "Dinner and Delusion," an opera co-written with composer Michael Sahl (The Center for Contemporary Opera/New York City Opera’s VOX Festival).
Nancy Manocherian and Kira Simring have written that they are "eternally grateful to Crystal Field and Theater tor the New City for presenting the world premiere of 'An American Family Takes A Lover.'"
The actors are Bob Jaffe as Richard David, Lila Donnolo as Lady Anne, Tiffany Greene as Justine and Danny Yo Ley as the handyman.