SHAKING THE FOUNDATION OF "THE HOUSE THAT WILL NOT STAND"
By Bonnie Goldberg
Gumbo is a hearty, rich, heavily spiced soup that originated in southern Louisiana in the 18th century. Its stock is strongly flavored with a variety of vegetables and either meat or shellfish. In Marcus Gardley's world premiere play "The House that will not Stand," the Yale Repertory Theatre in a co-production with California's Berkeley Repertory Theatre, the gumbo dish speaks to combined cultures that meld and blend together into a unique time in our southern American history.
Until Saturday, May 10, the gumbo pot will be served up hot and peppery and it will be a gourmet treat not soon forgotten. It may burn your tongue and fire your heart and tickle your funny bone all at the same time.
Beartrice Albans is the powerful, no nonsense matriarch who rules with an iron fist and steel spine over all she possesses. As a free woman of color in 1836 New Orleans, she has bargained her way to society's pinnacle by entering into an illegal interracial "marriage" with a wealthy white man Lazare (Ray Reinhardt) three decades before. Beartrice is brought to startling life by Lizan Mitchell who does not want any of her daughters (Joniece Abbott-Pratt, Flor De Liz Perez and Tiffany Rachelle Stewart) to submit to this system of common law mating with a white man, a practice that does not protect their rights and borders on being a slavery of a different sort.
Beartrice is so convinced she is right in her beliefs that she argues and fights with Lazare, ultimately causing his death. He wanted his daughters to attend a ball, held once a year, that would have matched them to eligible white men. These men of power were able to sustain two households, but on their death, only the white wife could inherit.
In this house, built on a foundation of lies, deceit and sand, live Beartrice's half-crazed sister (Petronia Paley) and Makeda, a conjuring, voodoo-believing woman who knows it all and keeps the household running, a spirited Harriett D. Foy, who will do anything to earn her own freedom.
This textured and layered canvas is vibrant with a rainbow of colors, on an elegant drawing room set designed by Antje Ellermann. Patricia McGregor directs a fine, almost all female cast in a drama that explores the price we pay for freedom from a multitude of angles with poignancy and power.
For tickets ($20-98), call Yale Repertory Theatre, 1120 Chapel Street, New Haven at 203-432-1234 or online at www.yalerep.org.; Performances are Tuesday to Saturday at 8 p.m., with a 2 p.m. matinee Saturday and some Wednesdays.
Will Beartrice be able to triumph and move her daughters to Paris so they will be truly free before their beautiful home collapses all around them?