Playwright Kirsten Greenidge taps into her own family’s past for THE LUCK OF THE IRISH (playing at the BCA through April 29th) but it resonates large as a truly American play, the way August Wilson’s work does. Her grandparents used a “ghost buyer” to purchase their home in the l960s. In the postwar years, African Americans populated major cities but were restricted from moving into white suburbs. Neighborhood committees, real estate agents and state laws colluded to keep ethnic minorities out, practices which still exist today, believe it or not. Greenidge weaves this seamlessly into her touching story of pride and prejudice.
In addition to its charming (and some not so) characters, smart dialogue and historical punch, THE LUCK OF THE IRISH manages to capture what fear is like. Hannah Davis (Francesca Choy-Kee) is tormented by a letter which asserts that she may not be the legal owner of her home, the house her grandparents bought fifty years earlier through a surrogate. Greenidge nails the all encompassing gut wrenching that fear can induce. No amount of reassurance from her husband (Curtis McClarin) can stop Hannah’s doubts from surfacing. It’s a nice piece of psychological writing.
Poor Hannah is dealing with her son’s hyperactivity (He tends to bite first and play later), her beloved grandmother’s death (We meet her in flashbacks) and some mighty unpleasant communications from the neighbor who claims she was the actual purchaser and rightful owner. Director Melia Bensussen creates lovely crossovers for the present day characters around and through their counterparts in the ‘50s, making the flashbacks and present day action all of a piece. Key and McClarin anchor the story, with powerful performances from Nikkole Salter and Victor Willams (as Hannah’s grandparents) making it shimmer.
Bensussen gets wonderful work as well from Richard McElvain (now) and McCaleb Burnett (then) as the ghost buyer and Nancy E. Carroll (now) and Marianna Bassham (then) as his wife and from Shalita Grant as Hannah’s cheery sister, a spirited contrast to her frenzied sibling. (Two actors, Antoine Gray, Jr. and Jahmeel Mack alternate as the son.)