By Kirsten Greenidge
Directed by Damon Kiely
At Next Theatre. Evsnston
“Fifty years later you’d think this neighborhood would have changed just a little,” Hannah observes in the play’s opening scene.
“Nope,” Nessa replies tartly. “We’re still the flies in the buttermilk.”
Disputed ownership and the feeling of belonging at the heart of Greenidge’s family drama
Played upon a back porch in an affluent home in a Boston suburb (on fine set designed by Jackie and Rick Penrod), Kirsten Greenidge’s Luck of the Irish is a family drama set in the 1950’s and the 2000’s following the disputed ownership after an unorthodox purchase of said house.
When an upwardly mobile African-American couple wants to buy a home in an all white neighborhood of 1950’s Boston, they pay a struggling Irish family to “ghost-buy” a house on their behalf. Fifty-two years later, the Irish family wants “their” house back. Moving across two eras, Luck of the Irish explores our legacy of racial and class issues and the long held secrets that tie two families and one house together.
Reminiscent of Bruce Norris’ Clybourne Park, Luck of the Irish deals with an affluent black family, Lucy (Mildred Marie Langford) and Dr. Rex Taylor (Andre Teamer) who pay cash with a $1500 bonus to a poor Irish family with six children to the Taylor’s can live in a fine all-white neighborhood
Since the Irish family, the Donovan’s are headed by the dreamer. Joe (Chris Rickett) who can’t ever seem to provide enough for his large family, his touch, racist wife Patty Anne (Cora Vander Broek) pushes him to extort more from the Taylor’s since the Donovan’s are poor.
Utilizing back and forth in a 50 year timeline, Luck of the Irish deals with the contemporary Taylor’s – and their grandparents from the 50’s. The Donovan’s are played by their young selves (Rickett and Vander Broek) and their senior selves (Walter Brody as Joe and Margaret Kusterman as Patty Anne).
The contemporary Taylor sisters, Hannah (Lily Mojekwu) and Nessa (Lucy Sandy) both argue over ownership of the house and speak to their still not belonging to the neighborhood despite living most of their lives in the affluent area. There is a subplot about Hannah’s socially disturbed son Miles (Messiyah Oduro-Kwarten) with whom Hannah belives is used as a ‘token’ black athlete in an mostly white middle school.
Luck of the Irish vividly depicts class and racial divides with a unique twist: the Irish are the poor and the Blacks are the educated, refined rich folks. At the heart of the story is a decades old secret held from both Patty Anne and Lucy that deals with the ‘special’ arrangement between Joe and Dr. Rex. There is also hints of a spark that young Joe had toward the always proper Lucy Taylor.
While I found the initial mystery -concerning the location of the title to the house to be a false issue since the country records surely would have had a record of the house’s title especially after the payment of 50 years of property taxes. I felt that the real issue here is the feeling that they still don’t belong in a white neighborhood from Hannah and Rich (Austin Tallwy) and from sister Nessa. The visit from the elderly Patty Annie does little to defuse the Taylor’s feeling of not belonging.
I was particularly impressed with the performance from Mildred Marie Langford as Lucy Taylor and from Chris Ricket as the dreamer Joe Donovan. Luck of the Irish has it moments and it contains food for thought about 21st Century racial attitudes.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: January 21, 2014
For more info check the Luck of the Irish page at theatreinchicago.com
At Next Theatre, 927 Noyes Street, Evanston, IL, call 847-475-1874, www.nexttheatre.org, tickets $30 – $45, Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 2 pm, running time is 2 hours, 15 minutes with intermission, through February 23, 2104