Terrence Spivey’s latest show might shock you. And that’s good. The Shore Cultural Centre artistic associate has a long history of directing theater that gets people talking. Shows such as his 2003 Karamu House production of The Little Tommy Parker Celebrated Colored Minstrel Show often explore cultural and racial taboos. His July 7-29 production of Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ Neighbors, a satirical exploration of blackface and minstrelsy, at Convergence-Continuum is a continuation of that streak.
“This [show] feels like an exorcism of how black we are and how black we are not,” says Spivey. “It’s very prickly. It pokes and probes into who we really are, and those that we are in relationships with.”
Neighbors, the first script from Pulitzer Prize finalist and An Octoroon writer Jacobs-Jenkins, centers on black professor Richard Patterson, his wife Jean, who is white, and their daughter Melody. The Pattersons’ staid suburban lives are turned upside down when the Crows, a family of minstrels in blackface, moves in next door. What follows is a domestic dramedy of deconstructed racial identity. Punctuated by exaggerated minstrel imagery, it includes one interlude in which one of the Crows performs sexual acts with a watermelon.
In the script, Jacobs-Jenkins purposefully doesn’t designate the race of the actors playing the Crows. Spivey cast black actors for those roles as a way of reinforcing the show’s central critique: None of the characters ever acknowledge or discuss the blackface. Instead, it’s up to the audience to determine how they feel about the intense imagery.
“It’s not just about the blackface,” he says. “It’s about how we represent a stereotype in general.”
Spivey is planning post-show discussions that will, hopefully, cause the audience to interrogate the way they think about racial stereotypes and the history of blackface.
“The play doesn’t end when it ends,” he says.