Don Aucoin and The Boston Globe featured SPLENDOR in yesterday’s Fall Arts Preview. Here’s an excerpt:
Questions of Belonging Reverberate on Local Stages By Don Aucoin Boston Globe, Sept 7, 2013
Three years ago, Kirsten Greenidge’s “Thanksgiving’’ was the high point of “Grimm,’’ Company One’s evening of short plays by seven local writers adapted from tales by the Brothers Grimm.
During “Thanksgiving,’’ as three women from the same hometown pondered the paths their lives had taken, they spoke of an individualistic high school classmate named Fran Giosa, who had apparently been a social outcast. Afterward, Greenidge couldn’t get Fran, the other women, or that town out of her mind.
So she expanded “Thanksgiving’’ into a full-length drama. Titled “Splendor’’ and slated to premiere at Company One Oct. 18-Nov. 16, Greenidge’s play tells a story about belonging and not belonging — a theme that will be thrashed out on numerous Boston-area stages this fall.
The episodic “Splendor,’’ which spans the years 1965 to 2012, ranges across the intersecting lives of 10 residents of a working-class suburb of Boston, including Fran, the daughter of a white mother and a black father.
“ ‘Splendor’ became for me a way to explore that who’s in, who’s out, and why,’’ Greenidge said in a telephone interview. “I’m intensely interested in race, but when you add other things, it can be a little more difficult to figure out who’s in, who’s out.’’
As she delved deeper into the town and its inhabitants, the playwright said, the experience was akin to looking through a prism: “You keep holding it up to the sun and you see different angles. It’s not just race, it’s not just class, it’s not just gender: It’s all these things together.’’
Greenidge, who lives in Waltham, has demonstrated exceptional acuity in dramatizing those issues in plays like “The Luck of the Irish,’’ which premiered last year at Huntington Theatre Company, and “Bossa Nova,’’ performed at Yale Repertory Theatre in 2010.
In “Splendor,’’ Fran has returned from Chestnut Hill to her hometown after her marriage to a wealthy African-American man falls apart. She needs to decide whether the place where she grew up poor and ostracized can now be home to her and her young daughter, and whether the one solid friendship she had during her youth is worth rekindling. (She also has to map out a plan for dealing with her aggressively outspoken mother, who still lives in the town even while seeming to despise it.) Broadly speaking, Fran confronts a choice about who she is going to be.
In the course of the play, water takes a central imagistic role — sometimes it’s a stand-in for peace and calm, other times it’s explicitly a marker of death by drowning. Director Shawn LaCount has said that all the characters in the play feel, at some point, the pressure and need for air that a person caught underwater would encounter. They are all looking for a way to swim, to succeed, to deal with the circumstances of their lives. Only Anthony finds his way to the surface; Fran and Nicole may reach it as well. There are moments where each character might have the potential to surface, to breathe again, and moments where the pressure nearly crushes them.
A selective list of water images evoked throughout the play: the Middle Passage; Davey’s drowning; Mike’s implied trauma in the water connected to Davey’s death; the feeling of invincibility in the water quickly transformed to mortality; Anthony’s love of the “black hole” in the harbor beyond the lighthouse; the way Lisa hears water sometimes; the way the lighthouse and harbor feel peaceful to Anthony and Nicole; the implication that the most expensive houses in town are the ones nearest the water; Aline’s feeling that the ocean is peaceful; Lisa’s Caribbean vacation….
Scenic Designer Cristina Todesco and Lighting Designer Jen Rock are also playing with the feeling of water, and of light filtering through water, as a component of the play in production.
The work of artist Jason De Caires Taylor is particularly evocative here. He creates concrete statues of people in everyday positions, installs them underwater, and waits for corals to create sculptural reefs. His installations change in shape and color over time, but the human forms remain.
Today we dive into the text of SPLENDOR, 50 years to the day from Martin Luther King Jr.’s address on the National Mall, calling for a day when “right down in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.” Maybe one day in Massachusetts, too.