March 9, 2023
Two Dorchester-based playwrights were among seven local dramatists recently selected out of some fifty submissions by Moonbox Productions for its second annual New Works Festival.
A panel of judges selected four plays and three musicals, including Ken Green’s play, “The F&L at 1330,” and Angele Maraj’s musical, “Once Upon a Carnival,” to participate in “an extensive workshop” alongside five others that will culminate with a staged production of each work at the festival from June 22 to June 26 at the Boston Center for the Arts in the South End.
Green, a native Chicagoan who lives in Dorchester, previously wrote “The Charles Lenox Experience,” which was produced by the New Repertory Theatre and featured the story of a Black barber in Watertown who enlisted as a private during the Civil War.
His latest, “The F&L at 1330,” centers around the gentrification of one Chicago dive bar, Fernando and Lalo’s, as told through Carla and Bernardo, siblings who inherited it from their late father and uncle. Since the 1970s, the dive bar has sat at 1330 N. Larrabee Street. “But most of the neighborhood doesn’t want to call it a dive bar,” Green said. “People outside call it that. It’s just a bar.”
As the neighborhood looks to turn upscale, Carla and Bernardo watch as their family bar fades from the public memory as a neighborhood attraction to valuable property for developers and city government. The siblings are left to confront their family’s struggles while deciding if keeping the bar afloat is worth the fight against development.
“They’re not making a lot of money because everything around them is getting bigger and more expensive,” Green said. “It’s also about their personal lives and conflict going on that are pretty heavy. So it’s just two different battles going on. Is this place going to survive? Is it going to be another place that used to be there and that’s pretty much the end?”
In an interview, Green reflected on the irony he found in neighborhood gentrification and in his onetime job at Chicago Housing Authority while writing the play. “Changes like these seem inevitable a lot of time,” Green said. “But the things that gave it character in the first place are the very things that get knocked out first,” he said.
He hopes the play will challenge audiences’ perception of a “good neighborhood.” “Pretty soon you got this hip, cool neighborhood: streetlights, new landscaping, the city puts in new cops all the time, so on the one hand it’s good that it is now taken care of, but it took this group of people to move in to give a damn about it,” He said. “Hopefully people could start to question when they say a neighborhood is ‘better now.’ I hope people just think about it like, ‘Okay, but why is it better now?”
While Green’s play focuses on a neighborhood in transition, Angele Maraj’s playwriting debut, “Once Upon a Carnival,” is an original musical following 16-year-old Bhavan, who leaves New York for his mother’s native Trinidad after the death of his father. Maraj, whose parents are from Trinidad, and Brianna Pierre, a co-writer and longtime friend, created the work after experiencing frustration from the theater world’s underrepresentation of Indo-Caribbean identities.
Maraj, a Florida-born playwright, singer, and songwriter, was last seen in last year’s New Works Festival selection, “The Prince and the Painter.”
“I love being a part of multiple cultures,” she said. “And sometimes it can be a confusing experience, but you have to keep revisiting or working through to understand your own place,” she said.
“Part of what Bhavan is navigating is that he was raised in the United States, I feel he’s a biracial character. And his father is not Trinidadian, so, he feels closer with his father. He feels more connected to the other part of his culture since hasn’t really engaged with what the Trinidadian part of his heritage means.”
Tasked with overcoming the death of his father and accepting his newfound identity, Bhavan sets off on a “magical quest in the mythological bushland,” according to Maraj’s website. “I think magical realism is a really wonderful genre to explore some of these kinds of complex questions, because the stories that we tell within a culture are a reflection of our values.”
Through subverting traditional Indo-Caribbean myths and stories accompanied by a chutney, soca, and a calypso- infused score, Maraj hopes Bhavan’s quest to find his family and himself during Carnival time challenges classical ideas of grief and identity.
“I won’t talk about that too in-depth because, I don’t want to give the whole story away but that kind of was how the mythology ended up figuring into the musical, – to again challenge these notions that we’re making; what it means to be XYZ identity, and where some of those notions come from.”
Maraj and Green’s works as well as the five others selected will debut at Moonbox’s second annual New Works Festival June 22-26 at the Boston Center for the Arts (in the South End). For upcoming date announcements and additional inquiries, visit moonboxproductions.org.