Theater review by David Cote. Claire Tow Theater. By Kirsten Greenidge. Dir. Rebecca Taichman. With ensemble cast. 2hrs 15mins. One intermission.
“There’s an order to things,” intones Patty Ann Donovan (Amanda Quaid), the blue-collar Boston matron who, with her gentle husband, Joe (Dashiell Eaves), helps an African-American family buy a nice house that they, the Donovans, could never afford. Patty Ann’s New England accent coarsens the words—“ah-duh ta things”—that encode her resentment of suave and successful Lucy and Rex Taylor (Eisa Davis, Victor Williams). Were you to conclude that the lady is a racist, you’d be partly right. It’s the 1950s, and Boston has never been a mecca of tolerance. But there’s more to Kirsten Greenidge’s searching and humane tale of roots and community than PC label-sticking. The writer braids potent themes of privilege, status and displacement that blur color lines.
“Ghost-buying” is the historical practice that gives Luck of the Irish its premise. White proxies would buy properties for upwardly mobile black buyers, then sign the deed over and collect a fee for their trouble. Blacks moved into nicer surroundings and waited for neighbors to adjust.
Greenidge’s play toggles between the ’50s, as Lucy and Rex negotiate a deal with Joe and Patty Ann, and the early 2000s, when Lucy’s stressed-out, unfulfilled granddaughter, Hannah (Marsha Stephanie Blake), finds her house threatened by the now-octogenarian but no less bitter Patty Ann (Jenny O’Hara), with regretful and ineffectual Joe (Robert Hogan) trailing behind. A half century has passed, but Hannah learns with shock, the title of her home may still be in question.
An optimal cast and Rebecca Taichman’s coolly precise direction tease out threads of social anxiety, class envy and interracial attraction that enmesh these richly drawn characters. Patty Ann is certainly a nasty piece of work, but she’s no villain, just a victim of moral disorder.—David Cote
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