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UI play tackles prejudice against blacks, Irish

BY JASMINE PUTNEY | MARCH 05, 2015 5:00 AM

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“Luck of the Irish” is a play about striving for equality, dreaming big, and finding an inner strength. Spreading across two eras, this journey explores the history of a home deemed to be more than simply real-estate. R. Eric Stone, the set designer for the play, is an associate professor and Head of Design at the University of Iowa. In total, he has designed 107 sets for different productions around the country, with “Luck of the Irish” being his 7th at the UI. Listen below to hear Stone talk about the set and why they decided to set it up in one certain way.

Multimedia compiled by Jasmine Putney and edited by Lily Abromeit

Operating like a sundial, a floor plan of a home erected in 1921, the Honor, continually revolves. Slowly spinning like the lives of the characters who dominate its space, the stage portrays not only a home but a battleground for equality.

At 8 p.m. today, the University of Iowa Theater Department will open its latest play in the Mainstage Series, Luck of the Irish, in the Theater Building's Thayer Theater.

The play was written by UI Playwrights' Workshop alumna Kirsten Greenidge, and it made its début Off-Broadway performance in 2012. The show has been performed in various theaters, including New York City's Lincoln Center.

Alison Ruth, a dramaturge for the production, researched historical aspects for the show and worked on providing a different perspective from that of director Tlaloc Rivas.

"The production team has done beautiful work showcasing the play's distinct use of two time periods to communicate a timeless message — the search for a home and sense of belonging," Ruth said.

The play toggles between 1950s Boston and present day and tells the story of the Taylors, an affluent African-American family who wish to purchase a home in a predominately white neighborhood. Having had trouble with racist realtors in the past, the Taylors choose to ask a white Irish family, the Donovans, to "ghost buy" the house for them. Little do the Taylors know the effect this decision would have on their family generations later.

Portraying elderly Mr. Donovan, Kevin Burford said both families feel oppressed by their circumstances but try to help each other overcome.

"I found it fascinating that in a play about prejudice, the black couple in the play is wealthier, more educated, sophisticated, and refined than the working-class Irish white couple, but they both share societal roadblocks," he said.

Inspired by experience, Greenidge introduced the little-known concept of ghost buying to the script. Ghost buying is a process in which a family pays another to buy real estate in neighborhoods they would not have been allowed to purchase. This tactic was often employed by black, Jewish, and immigrant families in order to avoid prejudice. Ruth said the issue has not completely dissipated despite our "integrated" society.

"Ghost buying was a real phenomenon, and house segregation was, and still is, a major problem. But the play is contemporary, and the issues are immediate," she said. "The questions [the play] asks are so important for 2015 audiences."

Cast as Hannah Taylor, lead actor Aneisa Hicks said she was immediately drawn to audition for the show after reading the script. Though the play tackles race issues, she said, it is not about black people or white people but rather humanity as a whole. Hicks believes everyone will be able to connect and learn from her character she portrays.

"Hannah taught me that it's all about finding strength in yourself where you didn't think you had any to begin with," she said. "As an actress, I learned what it is to be afraid of being black, and having to tell that story in front of what will be a majority white audience, and finding comfort and strength and honesty in that."

Recent events in the United States have demonstrated that the issues of the '50s are still prevalent. By combining themes of racial injustice, trials of parenthood, and socioeconomic class, Burford hopes Luck of the Irish reaches out to the hearts and minds of the audience members.

"It will demand that audience members question their views on prejudice and whether the 'luck of the Irish' is worth having," he said.


The Luck of the Irish, Mainstage Series
When: 8 p.m. today, Friday, Saturday, March 11-14; 2 p.m. March 8
Where: Theater Building Thayer Theater
Admission: $5-$18


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