Playwright Kirsten Greenidge visits the 1950s to ponder how far we’ve come.
History is what’s happening when you’re not looking — and that’s not just in a big picture sense. Down the block and right in our living rooms, passing time can transform even the most uneventful of actions into milestones. With “Luck of the Irish,” Boston-based playwright Kirsten Greenidge explores how the past pervades the present and how the social strictures of one era continue to constrain the lives we live. The show, which receives its Midwest premiere this week courtesy of Evanston’s Next Theatre Company, travels from the 1950s — when a middle-class black family engages a struggling white family to “ghost-buy” a home for them — to the present, when that obliging family comes home to roost.
Greenidge’s work was inspired by her family’s story, as her grandparents acquired their home with others as the face of the purchase. But the play goes well beyond that initial transaction. “While a real estate situation is at the center of the action, the action spirals out, gets tangled and then tangles again,” she says of the play. “It’s about the repercussions of that deal, not the deal itself.” An assessment of the American dream as much it is an essay on race, “Luck” works to avoid the civic-lessons pitfalls so many topical plays stumble through.
Director Damon Kiely describes the show as “compelling and complicated.” “There are no villains and no angels,” he says. “In essence, everyone wants the same thing: to protect their family. The brilliant twist is that it’s the 1950s and the African-American family is rich and the Irish-American family is poor. And they are both at a disadvantage, and both frustrated.”
“Some of my favorite plays are ones that were designed to make an audience question,” Greenidge says. “ ‘Medea,’ ‘The Cherry Orchard,’ ‘A Raisin in the Sun.’ I encounter plays like this and the text asks me, ‘Why?’ and ‘How?’ and ‘What is lost?’ and ‘What is gained?’ My task as a writer is to ask those questions first, not necessarily choose a topic from Headline News. In fact, choosing to write plays that way wouldn’t be useful, because my plays usually take two to three years, if not more, from the first days of writing to a production. I can’t predict what will be topical in two to three years’ time. What I can do is choose stories that ask those questions and develop characters that are attempting to hash out answers.”