Award-winning playwright and Oakland native Marcus Gardley on his original play, The House That Will Not Stand, about free black women in 1836 New Orleans.
San Francisco: Berkeley Rep told you that you could write about whatever you wanted. Why should a Bay Area audience take interest in pre-abolition New Orleans?
Marcus Gardley: I always wanted to write about this period because there were so many people who migrated from Louisiana to the Bay Area, primarily because of the shipyards. The play also deals with a lot of issues that are pertinent in the Bay Area today: economic insecurity, racial tensions, generational conflicts. The older women in our family struggled to make a way for us, and they expected their offspring to do even better, and that’s the issue of the play. The first thing that critics usually point out about my work is that I’m black and that this is how black writers write. To me, that is very limiting, but I do think it’s pertinent here because inter-race relations is a subject discussed more in the Bay Area than anywhere else I’ve lived. My family is also from the New Orleans area—my grandmother came here for the shipyards. It’s the most personal story I’ve ever written.
If that's true, then how much of you shows up in the characters?
I grew up in West Oakland at St. Patrick’s Catholic School, so I have a personal history with the Catholic Church that is an influence. I'd say that there's a little bit of me in every character. I relate to the mother's need to provide security and to the ambitiousness of the oldest daughter and the spirituality of the middle daughter. There's the youngest daughter who realizes that she's an outcast in her own family—and that's definitely me.
Jan. 31–March 16, berkeleyrep.org
Originally published in the February issue of San Francisco