America’s Wives: This play is sort of based on a Yoruba folktale. I think I actually know the folktale in question. I definitely know related ones from a number of cultures in which one family member is rewarded with gifts and another one tries to get the same gifts but misunderstands the whole process and is punished. The twist is that this version, in which the two family members are co-wives, is tied to American racism. The first wife of America is a white woman, while the second is a Nigerian woman, who the first wife abuses. The second wife’s child is stolen by a bald eagle, but she refuses riches and keeps begging for her child back. Not only does she get the child returned, but she gets to keep the riches. The first wife then tries to set up the same situation, but places the riches above the child. The other catch is that it wasn’t her own child, but one she stole from another (Native American) wife. She gets worthless items (e.g. rocks instead of jewels) and, finally, just the bones of the child.
That’s an interesting concept and the notion of dealing with race via the multiple wives of America is intriguing. A lot of the language was poetic (including rhyme). However, the whole thing was a bit too heavy-handed for me. I don’t think that, say, shopping at a Columbus Day sale inherently makes someone a racist. And I don’t buy the implication that white people don’t have conflicts over how they feel about America.
I liked the concept, but a touch of subtlety would have made this a much better play. Getting hit over the head isn’t likely to change anyone’s minds.
Shopworn: The writer of this play, Derek Hills, is also a storyteller and he and I have several mutual friends, though I don’t think I actually know him. The play is set in an antique store in a Southern country town. The store’s owner has died and left the store to her two sons and the young woman who worked there with her. The two sons are very much unlike one another, with part of the tension based on their feelings about their Southern heritage. The one who now lives in Brooklyn has a black girlfriend who comes down to share in the eye-reolling. And then the dead woman speaks, via an Aunt Jemima cookie jar. Which is not the only racially questionable item in the store, leading to more of the conflict.
This sounds like it could get preachy, but the humorous interplay of the characters balances things out well enough to save it. There’s some backstory about the mother that isn’t as developed as I’d have liked it to be. And the woman working in the store sometimes seemed quirky without any good reason. Still, this was a funny show and I thought it was worth seeing.
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