Another production in the books!
That’s the only way I can describe the experience of having my play The Chalice produced at the Stonewall Inn. As a Catholic writer, I feel that my voice ought only to be heard in an LGBTQ space with the express permission of the people to whom it belongs. The Stonewall chose to give my play a platform, and for that I am incredibly grateful. Seeing Xavier Theatre, a Catholic theatre company, work in tandem with The Stonewall, the historical beginning of the Gay Rights Movement, gave me hope that yes, people can in fact still listen to each other. We can in fact still learn, and our hearts can still be changed.
I sat down with Bruce Jones, who played Alex, to talk about his experience working on the play, and what the play works for LGBTQ people and people of color. He started out expressing his surprise, when he first saw it, that the character was written by a white person. This says a lot about the type of roles that have been traditionally written for the stage- white people, mostly men, have written roles for other white people, mostly men. When people of color do appear onstage, too often they are in stereotyped roles with no connection to the lived experiences of human beings. Bruce reflects, “Queer people have been around forever. People of color have been around forever. But I think that if you write these roles and the only thing you have to bring to it is this weird, formulaic idea of what you think people are like, there’s nothing about that that has integrity.” The exception to this, of course, is plays written by people of color. The result that its actually difficult to imagine a white person having written a thee-dimensional lead character that isn’t white. Wow.
What was eye-opening to me about Jones’ assumption was that he actually wasn’t wrong. I hadn’t originally written Alex as a black man, despite the obvious thematic connections to race that present themselves in this play. From my place of racial privilege, it didn’t register with me to address Alex’s race, despite the fact that the central scene in the play takes place between him and a Neo-Nazi. It wasn’t until we cast Jak Watson in the original production at the New School that this layer was added to the script. I do not think I would have been able to do justice to that aspect of the character if it wasn’t for Jak’s guidance and input during the re-writing process. Thanks to feedback from Jak and Bruce, the play has gained depth and power far beyond what I initially conceived.
Bruce goes on to describe his relationship to the character himself, a person with a vastly different temperament, experience, and worldview. “There’s a character who can be like you on paper- who can have the same skin color and be the same age- but you can still not know who they are, how you can get into them, or how you can crack what they are. And I feel very much like, he and I, if you were to check the two boxes, we’re both black and we’re both Queer. Those are the two things we have in common, but everything else is so different. His essence is different than mine.” This really ties back to his original point. We hear all the time about the lack of roles for Queer people and for people of color. But the next layer of this conversation is that the roles that do exist so often lack complexity. Bruce says it best:
“It is so important to see people of color (and LGBTQ people) as being human beings experiencing pain and loss and love and everything in-between. I think that when you have under-represented people and you have the opportunity to look at them and say ‘oh this person has experienced profound pain and profound joy’, that is so important.”
I return again to the word honor. It’s an honor as a writer to work with actors who care passionately about my plays, that see them as vital and relevant to their lives. Thank you thank you thank you to everyone who dedicated their talents to The Chalice:
Director Tom Paolino
Stage Manager: Signey Junk
Cast: Bruce Jones, Margaret Arnold, Marisela Gonzalez, Joe Hoover, Bruce Jones, Kevin Martinez
A very special thank you to Austin Pendleton for appearing in the role of Pius XII.
You can check out Bruce’s full interview (and the accompanying ambient sounds of The Stonewall) here:
You can also read more about the production in my article in America Magazine: