Love, race and history


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Play commemorates the 50th anniversary of Loving v. Virginia


Photos



  • Tia James and Pete McElligott as Mildred and Richard Loving. Photo courtesy of Stella Adler Studio of Acting/Kenneth Shook Photography




  • Scene from "Loving and Loving." Photo courtesy of Stella Adler Studio of Acting




  • From "Loving and Loving." Photo courtesy of Stella Adler Studio of Acting



“How would you explain being mixed?” In “Loving and Loving,” this complicated question of race and identity is answered by both the past and the present. Central to the play is the story of Richard and Mildred Loving, whose then-illegal union in 1958 led the Supreme Court to overturn a national ban on interracial marriage on June 12, 1967. Woven into their tale are interviews with people of mixed backgrounds living in America today, broadcast from speakers set up in the corners of the intimate room of Stella Adler Studio where the play is being staged until the end of the month.

Years ago, playwright Beto O'Byrne was searching for something that would “present the examination of the mixed identity as central” to the studio's mission, and Loving v. Virginia was a perfect fit. “As we began to think about the Lovings, and then we found out that the 50th was coming up, it just felt like a lot of pieces started lining up,” O'Byrne said. “Because it is linked to, in a very tangible way, the legalization of the mixed body.”

For O'Byrne and Meropi Peponides, co-creator and artistic director, the topic is a very personal one. Both identify as biracial and bicultural, as do many of their friends. When they first began putting the show together, Peponides said, they interviewed New Yorkers with mixed backgrounds about their experiences and found that many of them felt strong ties to the Lovings. “[The interviews are] an attempt to kind of expand on the legacy of the story and really look it at as an origin point for the legitimization of all kinds of different cross-cultural relationships,” Peponides said.

The character of Maya, played by Caitlin Cisco, serves as the link between the Lovings and the modern lives they made possible. Richard, played by Pete McElligott, and Mildred, played by Tia James, are the only other characters in the show besides Maya, who plays multiple characters in the story while maintaining her role as somewhat of a narrator and outside observer. In contrast with the depth and breadth of the subject matter, the set is relatively sparse, with a few benches, a table and some chairs rearranged into various configurations. There are some childrens' blocks, a blanket and, most importantly, a radio from which Sam Cooke plays, as well as occasional news broadcasts of events such as the 1963 March on Washington.

Crediting the “explicit theatricality” of O'Byrne's writing, director Tamilla Woodard said the set design choices are an invitation for people to “make-believe” and “fill in the world” in which the show takes place. There is no need for more. The three actors' evident passion for the story beams through like one of the overhead spotlights. And in a room only large enough for about 40 people, where some of the audience is seated on the stage, it's easy to get wrapped up in the warmth of the narrative.

After all, it is ultimately about two people in love. “The court case is a part of the plot but the real story is about discovering that it's actually a love story,” Woodard said. “Mixed-race children are a real product of that and they have their own particular kind of narrative.” O'Byrne echoed the sentiment, saying “there's something great about a love story.” Something bold, too, Peponides added, especially in today's political climate. “I think the play just resonates really differently than it did in the previous administration,” she said. “It feels a little bit more audacious now.”

“Loving and Loving” gives and gives throughout its 90-minute running time. Only at the end does it ask something of the audience: celebrate the space where you live, Maya requests. The in-between. What makes you special. Then, she asks everyone to get up and dance to Sam Cooke's “Twistin' the Night Away.” Everyone does.

Madeleine Thompson can be reached at newsreporter@strausnews.com



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