The Cosmopolitan Review: August 9 - August 15

Yvonne Delaney Mitchell | 8/16/2018, 10:30 a.m.

Trains and boats and planes. People are pouring in by all means of transportation to Martha’s Vineyard. If it is August, then you must know whoever you are looking for, the Vineyard is where they will be. Except for Ray and Darlene Bruce, who have chosen to go to Florida this year and are sorely missed. And let’s not forget our Sag Harbor friends, such as Thelma Dye and Carlton Holms, the Honorable Frank Perry and those too beachy to mention.

News just in from classical performance critic, supporter and lover Patrick Bradford. Bradford is an African-American practicing attorney. He studied dramatic literature as a Harvard undergrad and has reported on the following—a good way to keep cool and enjoy the balmy summer nights.

Entering New York Theater Workshop’s modest space for a fourth performance of Marcus Gardley’s hilarious and powerful “The House That Will Not Stand,” one is greeted by Beyoncé Knowles Carter, shouting out anthems of Black female power and independence. One cannot help but think that the production’s talented director, Lileana Blain Cruz, has intentionally drawn a line from Carter, an iconic, beautiful, fair-skinned artist and business woman of today, back to her phenotypical sisters in 1813 New Orleans, where “House” is set. And what a great distance playwright Gardley has traveled with this historical comic-drama, infused with a mashup of contemporary and 19th century language. Gardley’s facility with language has been compared with Lorca, mixed with Tennessee Williams. He is a master of word-play and operates in diverse theatrical modes.

Thus far, Gardley has been produced more in London and in U.S. regional theaters than in New York City. I hope that “House” will alter this unfortunate circumstance. His “X, or Betty Shabazz v. the Nation” (The Acting Company) and “The Box” (The Foundry Theater) are both engaging works seen earlier in NYC. “House” (2011) arrives in NYC after outings in London, at Yale Repertory (where I first caught it a few years ago) and at various other regional theaters. The text has been reworked since Yale. Thankfully, the New York Theater Workshop production retains the ultra-talented Harriett D. Foy, peerless in the critical role of Makeda, a slave desperate to win her freedom. Foy’s unforgettable and career defining performance makes “House” essential theater-going. It also announces Foy as a major leading lady in the American theater.

With the Louisiana purchase in 1803, the French custom of wealthy white men taking fair-skinned Black, common law wives—the system of plaçage—was dying out in New Orleans. Under this system, Black women and their children could live comparatively comfortably, own property and even enjoy certain rights of inheritance. Yet, in 1813 these customs were changing. With U.S. ownership, plaçage could easily become chattel slavery for unfortunate women of color and their biracial children. For as the play’s matriarch, Beatrice Albans (a stern and stellar Lynda Gravátt) says, she does not want any of her three daughters to become common law wives, as plaçage is also a form of slavery. And Beatrice Albans should know. The play opens with the death of her white husband, Lazare, and for the first time in her life, there is the prospect of greater freedom. Lazare has left the house and other significant property to Beatrice, but U.S. law has now interceded. And so everything goes to Lazare’s white wife, who bore him no children.