In the endless parade of new scripts that cross our desks, 400 to 500 per year, it is tough for one to really stand out. A couple years ago, Jordan Puckett, our associate artistic director and the producer of our Sandbox program, sent me a script by Phillip Howze. I was immediately struck by the original voice. His was a way of putting words on the page I had not seen and the script created a vivid world beneath the words, a world vibrating with passion and unspoken rages, losses, hopes, fears. It was as if there was a play lurking beneath the play. We considered, but didn’t end up doing it in our Sandbox, but the voice stuck with me and vibrated in my ears for some time.
Jordan was completely won over, however, and spent time with Phillip on several occasions at workshops around the country, and when she handed me all of what you love and none of what you hate she was steaming with excitement. I wasn’t more than a few pages into the script when it became clear we would be presenting the piece. What is it about a play that can win you over before you’ve even finished it? Certainly, a script can turn one off in as little as ten pages, if you can’t identify with the characters, can’t get a grip on the creative world of the play, can’t see where the story is headed. But all of what you love just grabbed me and wouldn’t let go.
I sensed immediately a playwright who dearly loves his characters and sets them at play in a dangerous world where they are to be deeply challenged. A world we know exists but few of us in our safe lives can really imagine. A world burdened by racism and poverty. Poverty of the spirit as well as the flesh. Delicate souls are we all, but these four do not have the tools to navigate the desolate urban landscape they call home. Where are the values to give a life stability? Can a mother, barely past childhood herself care for her children? Can a boy find a moral compass in the maelstrom of urban macho culture. Who is there to guide these fragile souls? No one. They are cast adrift on their own, to stumble through the dark to the light.
Mr. Howze, their creator, knows them. He’s knows how tough their chances are to find wonder and joy. And yet he gives them the courage to try.