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Local playwright Ingrid Cornell is a woman of ambition.The new author debuted her first play, Uncommon Friends in Reckoning, last Monday at the Helen Hayes Gallery of the National Theatre. In addition to starring in the work, Cornell produced and directed the production, which was her first.
Cornell wrote the play last November and almost called it quits when most of the cast dropped out midway through rehearsals. “It becomes all-challenging…when people decide for personal reasons they don’t want to do the play,” she says. “It’s been a long, long journey.” The cast members dropped out for a variety of reasons, she says, but some “had issues with the script.”
The script in question focuses on the relationships between African-Americans and Jews in America. Set during World War II in a New York City hospital, Uncommon Friends in Reckoning examines the question: “Can an African-American woman and a Jewish Holocaust survivor find common ground as victims of oppression?”
Some of her critics, she concedes, question whether an African-American woman can write about Jewish culture. “I got a lot of scrutiny,” she says. But the fact that people would get upset about her choice of material, she says, “makes the play relevant for me.”
And now that the one-night premiere is over, Cornell has big plans to produce her play again in the very near future and to continue writing. “I’m very much influenced living [in D.C.] as an African-American in a pro-black city…and by the ability to mix with people of many cultural backgrounds,” she says. Cornell cites the cultural mixing of certain D.C. neighborhoods as inspiration for her work: “When you can discover the same cultural values even though the specifics may be different, then you see your responsibility to society.”—Andrew Katz