It turns out, "post-racial" America is not so...post. Racism continues to unravel the American dream even as we marry interracially and populate schools with bi-and-multiracial children in greater numbers. What happens when issues of race are not dissected, interrogated, felt about, argued about, within the context of the American family? The Appropriate Ones, LaShonda Katrice Barnett's trilogy of full-length plays, considers this question from different angles. HOMEWOOD; MENEMSHA; and L'ECHANGE (The Exchange) are each helmed by Manhattan sexagenarian interracial couple June Hensley (caucasian) and Helen Drake (African American). An executive editor for a reputable independent publishing house and an academic Historian, June and Helen are mothers to (African American) son, Kenneth Drake. The plays occur at different junctures of the Drake-Hensleys family life:
I. Homewood: Unsuspecting June and Helen inherit June's aging, declining father after his Senior Residence is closed by the state of Louisiana. [Cast: 3; Estimated running time: 90 min.]
II. Menemsha: The Drake-Hensleys make their annual summer pilgrimage to Chilmark. Set in a quaint family cottage on the edge of the fishing village of Menemsha, this year's holiday brings trouble for teenage son Kenneth and the Drake-Hensleys' guest, German exchange student Annemieke, when the youths befriend a transgendered Vineyarder embroiled in recent scandal. [Cast: 5; Estimated running time: 90 min.]
III. L'Echange (The Exchange): A botched summer international home-exchange places an American family in the wake of a French couple’s most private and turbulent moment. [Cast: 6; Estimated running time: 105 min.]
Directed by Cheryl King and produced by Stage Left, L'Echange will play May 26, 27, 28, 2015 at the off-Broadway theatre Stage Left Studio. Check back for details.
When Paul and Marie Monnot miss their flight from France, New Yorkers Helen Drake and June Hensley must spend a day of overlap with the French couple (the other half of their home-swap vacation plan) in their countryside home. Here, time’s passage signifies loss and gain. The yearlong estrangement from their adopted (adult) Korean daughter, Sandrine, threatens further destruction of the Monnots' marriage. For the Drake-Hensleys, the Home Exchange is a chance to connect more meaningfully to their (adult) son Kenneth in the face of June’s illness. Erosion of communication between husband and wife and parent and child rise against the backdrop of June’s unraveling career, progression of her MS and an increasingly difficult relationship with Kenneth, whose experiences with racism in France, where he presently lives and dances with the Centre Chorégraphique National de Nantes, have strained his relationship with his white mother.
On involuntary furlough from the publishing house where she has edited for twenty-two years, June is caught in a major lawsuit. After receiving a manuscript from first-time novelist DaVontae Myers and "passing" (declining to buy the book) , six months later, June makes an offer on the same manuscript--submitted under the pen name Judah Kreuzberg—for which she offers a $300,000.00 advance. African American author DaVontae Myers brings a discrimination suit for one million dollars against the publishing house, threatening to expose the editor and company in a media blitz. More than her job, June fears what the news of her case will do to the fragile bond with her son Kenneth.
Meet Helen and June...
June Elizabeth Hensley
• Age range: Late 50’s—early 60’s
• Slight southern accent
• Very physical role
June Hensley has Multiple Sclerosis. For the duration of the play she is in the wheel chair except for the first scene where she maneuvers from the chair into bed. Despite confinement to the wheel chair, she is constantly moving—wheeling herself about, using the powerful upper half of her body to gesture and communicate. An executive editor for the reputable, independent New York publishing house Heit, Klein & Kittle, Inc., she is sociable, humorous, and vibrant. A native Texan, she has the charm of a Southerner and the “can do” of a seasoned New Yorker, as she remained in Manhattan after graduating from Sarah Lawrence College. June has always dreamt of traveling to France, spending a month in the countryside with her partner of 21 years, and recent spouse, Helen Drake, “the keeper of the key, the seeker of the song.” But a pall hangs over their French adventure. June is on a forced furlough from HKK during an impending legal case.
June’s relationship to son Kenneth is no less devoted than her love to Helen but problematic. June feels that since college, Kenneth has allowed race to form a wedge between them.
Faced with the progression of her MS and frustrated with Helen’s blasé acceptance of Kenneth’s increasing indifference toward her, June is racing against the clock to put her house in order. A deteriorating bond with Kenneth; the stress of her firm’s legal battle; the France vacation; and her declining sexual self has June teetering on the edge of a frightening precipice.
(The role should be played so that June’s physical disability disappears as her MS is trumped by the power of language, emotion, her life force.)
• African American
• Age range: Late 50’s—early 60’s
• Slight southern accent
Calm and quiet-seeming Helen Drake observes all and is an astute listener, qualities she brings to an award-winning and distinguished career as a professor of European history at the CUNY Graduate Center. She is quick-witted, canny and morally certain. Previously married to an African American (male) sociologist for 5 years, whom she divorced when she met and fell in love with June on a women’s retreat in Blooming Grove, (Orange County) New York, 21 years ago. The biological mother of Kenneth, Helen now faces a constant balancing act: to not undermine June’s navigation of her MS but also to realistically evaluate and acknowledge the way the disease has and promises to alter their lives.
Born and raised in Harlan County (Putney), Kentucky, the oldest of five children, Helen is a self-identified “Papa’s baby, Mama’s Maybe.” She has the courage and conviction you’d expect of a union-leading miner’s child. Worked and paid her way through state colleges and universities. Moved to NYC in 1978 on a full-ride scholarship to CUNY-Grad Center, where she met her ex-husband. Having raised her four siblings, siblings to whom she is still the “mother” for all intents and purposes, she eschews many of the insecurities of parenthood. Far from perfect yet seasoned and with a spiritual practice June doesn’t share, Helen’s creed is “less is more” with Kenneth, an idea June rails against. She is mostly relaxed with her son (until his verbal attack on June in the final scene).
Helen has recently published a comparative history on African immigration to France, Germany, and Holland, her career magnum opus. In addition to the honeymoon they never had, the Home Exchange trip to France is—to Helen’s mind— a celebration of the book.
Despite the advent of wheelchair, walker, commode, into their lives, Helen and June move in each other’s space as though they have only ever loved each other. There is a marked grace in their marriage.