Zoe @ 'The House That Will Not Stand' - Complex Little Piece of History
What's it about?
A family of women in 19th century New Orleans struggle to understand their place in society in the wake of personal loss and political upheaval.
As someone who has never been to the southern part of this country and can rely only on anecdote and cultural stereotype to get a sense of what it's like, I've always been lead to believe that an inordinate amount of creepy, racist stuff happens down there. I've been watching this super creepy show, Sharp Objects, on HBO about the serial slaughtering of young women in a small southern town. So that's kind of where my mind was when I walked into NYTW.
Editor's Note (Cheyanne): Gillian Flynn, who wrote the book that this show is based on, is my favorite author of all time. Maybe not relevant to this post as a whole but I just loveeee her :)
I knew that The House That Will Not Stand was going to be about the South when I walked in, specifically New Orleans. I knew that it was a story about black women, and that it was a period piece set in the early 1800s. But man, nothing could have prepared me for what I saw onstage when I walked into the theatre. First of all, this set. It was like southern gothic perfection. Big, wide windows, gorgeous old furniture, a grand staircase and... a dead body?
Yeah, there's a dead body onstage the entire play. It's an old white man, the "patriarch" of a kind of household that only existed in French New Orleans, before the state was sold to America. What I read about in the program but was certainly never taught about in school was the practice of "placage," in which black/creole women in New Orleans could be essentially sold off to a wealthy white man to be kept by him in his home, as a sort of common law wife with many of the material perks that a white wife might have. But, of course, this arrangement was still a transaction. It was a different way of organizing race and class than the American colonies had, but yeah. It was still majorly inhumane.
As I was reading all of this untold history before the show, a man sat next to me. Now, I was in the very back row, literally right in front of the booth, so we started up a little chat to bond over our spot. Then, he asked me if I was an understudy. I was like, oh. What? I knew that the cast was all black women from reading the playbill, and I wondered if he knew that too. In my own mind, I look extremely white, but I'm certainly not waspy. It sort of made me think about how I might present to others and how perception of race vs. race itself is such an underlying aspect of every social interaction we have in this country.
What I loved about the play itself is that it gave life and depth to this complex little piece of history that is kept out of the history books, because it doesn't fit into the rosy narrative that most of America likes to tell about itself. As white people in particular, I feel that we have to get over our discomfort and be willing to listen to and participate in discussions about how black people have experienced life in this country historically. This play was an image of a pre civil-war black family that I don't think most Americans (including myself) even knew existed in our history. They were able to become quite wealthy, have slaves and servants, and on the surface, seemed to have ascended to the privilege of white society. But at what cost?
And it asked these really important questions about dignity in the face of oppression. Perceived by white society as sub-human, these woman had to ask themselves whether it's best to carve out a life for yourself inside of a fucked up system, or try to defy the system all together. It was stunning to watch the performances of these actresses, who brought humor and deep conflict to their characters.
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