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“She comes with those lines,” says acclaimed dramaturge Vera J. Katz of D.C. playwright Hope Lynne Price-Lindsay. “‘I’m too old for brand new,’” Katz continues, this time reciting a line from Lindsay’s play and then pausing, as if to honor the good words with a moment of silence. “That’s a playwright. It’s hard to find a good playwright,” she concludes.
Lindsay showed her most recent work,The Intruders, in two performances at the Atlas Performing Arts Center last weekend. It was part of the center’s INTERSECTIONS festival, which continues through Sunday, March 11.
Her line, “I’m too old for brand new,” comes at the end of the show when main characters Ella and Avis, who are longtime neighbors on a gentrifying block, are talking about moving away. Though Ella owns her home, the changes the new neighbors have brought—a newsletter, crime watches, different stores, an effort to remove old parked cars from people’s driveways and backyards—are getting to her. She is grieving the death of her grandson, and in her moment of deep distress, she considers leaving her home, selling it to one of the new people who want to move in. Avis tells Ella that things may be changing here, but if you leave, you’ll face changes even more stark. Avis is staying because she loves the block, and because “I’m too old for brand new,” she says.
As far as best girlfriends go, Ella and Avis are pretty cute. Judy E. Leak, who plays Ella, is 5 feet tall and a little round. And E. Dawn Samuel, who plays Avis, is 6 foot 2 and wiry. So the play’s central dialogue is between two senior ladies with a 14-inch height differential. It’s the tall one who slips a little Crown in her coffee cup when the conversation gets stressful.
Their conversation, for the most part, is about gentrification. Ella and Avis are African-American, and they’ve lived in the neighborhood long enough to see two generations grow up. Ella’s brood is very successful. Her son is a university professor and her daughter is completing her medical residency. Her grandson had just earned straight A’s for the term when he died.
In writing the play, Lindsay’s central question was: If something terrible happens on a block where gentrification has produced tension between residents old and new, will the terrible thing tear the neighborhood apart, or will it bring its residents together?
The terrible thing in The Intruders is the death of Ella’s grandson, who is hit by a car, and a subsequent argument between the neighbors over how the accident happened.
To learn the whether or not the block comes together you’ll have to see the play. But that will not be easy: The New Millenium Howard Players Theatre Company finished its two-show run at Atlas last Sunday. Both shows were packed.
The company doesn’t have a theater yet, but it wants one. Its players and playwright are “seasoned” alums of Howard’s theater department. “We have really developed a following,” says Lindsay. “People will come, we just have to have someplace to be. So we are a company without a home, and so we are looking for a home—a place where we can have a season.”
Katz, who may be most famous for coaching young actors who became stars (think Phylicia Rashad and Taraji P. Henson) in her 32 years as a professor at Howard, is putting her money on Lindsay as a playwright. “Wilson made that tremendous leap—August Wilson—and that was fabulous,” said Katz after the show. “And then people said, ‘Oh yes.’ And then following him, we had other people, other playwrights. So now, if we could do that with Hope, that would be really wonderful.”
Right now the team is looking to show the play again in the fall.
I’m not going to give away the ending, in hopes that they succeed. But what I will tell you is that for every sad moment in The Intruders there is a hilarious one. Most characters have a moment as a caricature of themselves—like new neighbor Zylinski, who wears a zip-front cardigan while walking the stage with a toy dog attached to a stiff wire leash so he can make it look like his tiny pet is shaking, neurotic, and the one leading him down the sidewalk. The audience laughed heartily at points throughout.
If you like the lighter side, find another of Lindsay’s plays—For the Love of Oscar, A Dramedy— on Martha’s Vineyard at the Katherine Cornell Theater on the weekend of August 19.