Sep. 1—When a white book editor finds herself enraptured with a young Black author, this bond of affection, which began as a night of passion, ultimately becomes a journey of healing in an award-winning play.
Gloucester Stage's regional premiere of "Reparations" by playwright James Sheldon opens Friday, Sept. 3 at the outdoor stage at Rockport's Windhover Center for Performing Arts, a collaboration created out of the COVID-19 pandemic to help patrons feel comfortable attending live theater.
"This piece touched me so deeply, to have two people who are so different but who share trauma to find each other and come together. It will make you laugh as well as think deeply," said director Myriam Cyr of Beverly.
When the titillation ends that morning after, the editor finds herself facing blackmail related to a transgression by her late husband and involving her young lover. That is the beginning of an avalanche of personal revelations that unfurl when family friends join these two for an "ill-timed paella feast" and the dinner conversation focuses on the many dimensions of "reparations."
Cyr noted that the playwright's goal, or hope, is to explore reparations on two levels.
"There is macro-reparation and micro-reparation, and you can't solve one without solving the other — and that's the crux of the play — and hence the title, and that's what really moved me about this work," she said.
New York drama critic Jonathan Kalb noted in his review that "Reparations," in its November 2019 world premiere, was the first work by a white author to be produced at the Billie Holiday Theatre in its 47-year history. He described the play as "both very smart and completely sincere." The play went on to win Best Play and five other Audelco awards, established in 1973 to honor "Black theater and its artists," in its world premiere.
North Shore ties
An actress, writer, and producer, Cyr leads an all-star cast from film, stage and television, comprised of Jason Bowen, Angela Pierce, Malcolm Ingram and Lisa Tharps.
Trained at the London Academy of Dramatic Arts, Cyr brings a long acting career into play as director. She once played the title role in "Salome" opposite Al Pacino on Broadway andopposite Steven Berkoff at the Royal National Theatre in London. She also was named poet laureate in 2008 in New Brunswick, Canada, where she grew up. It was her marriage to a man from Wenham that brought her to the North Shore.
Cyr first learned about this play from a contact in New York City, and she was immediately captivated by the script. Working with the author, she directed a staged reading at The Dramatists Guild in New York City in 2018, after which the play was picked up by the Billie Holiday Theatre.
"We feel the play is universal and we approached Gloucester Stage, which embraced this new work," said Cyr, "It will speak to a wider community because it's such a pertinent and important topic."
Pierce, an award-winning film, TV and stage actor, was equally enthralled with the play.
"There is an enormous weight to the word 'reparation' in the African American community, and no matter what community we come from, we can always engage in forward-moving conversations. I think we are all, as a country, as a planet, trying to heal and hopefully we use information that we have learned to be better," said Pierce, who most recently appeared on Broadway in "The Great Society."
Theater, particularly live theater, she continued, is important to tell stories and start conversations.
"This is a time that if we all work hard not to take things personally, to have empathy and to really listen to others, that we can work to build communities. I hope as we move forward as a country that we can have conversations that come from love and not fear," Pierce said.
The director said she is excited for this production to take place at the outdoor venue.
"This is one of the best theatrical experiences," said Cyr. "Windhover is an absolutely magical space and it's in our backyard. Plus this production has been blessed with an amazing crew and an extraordinary team of actors."
In the playwright's exploration of the human condition, Sheldon sought to spark introspection among his characters as well as the audience.
"With all my writing, I want to weigh in and reflect on the world around me as best I can in ways that can help audiences rethink some of the common assumptions we all seem to have about big issues," he said in a prepared statement. "In 'Reparations,' four characters from very different walks of life — different races, nationalities, ages, professions — come together and are forced to crack open the dark secrets of their pasts. The play attempts to rephrase the familiar debate on 'reparations' — reparations for the past injustices of slavery, or genocide or apartheid — as a story of four people confronting the injustices of their own pasts."
Gail McCarthy can be reached at 978-675-2706, or at email@example.com.
IF YOU GO
What: Gloucester Stage presents "Reparations," by James Sheldon, in a regional premiere.
When: Friday, Sept. 3, through Sunday, Sept. 19. Shows are Wednesday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday at 3:30 p.m.
Where: Performances are outdoors at Windhover Performing Arts Center, 257R Granite St, Rockport
How much: $54, $15 for students, $49 for seniors. For detailed ticket and seating information, visit www.gloucesterstage.com or call 978-281-4433.
COVID-19 safety: For safety protocols, visit: https://gloucesterstage.com/keeping-you-safe.