Actor and playwright David Heron has joined the cast of the staged reading of Leonora, a new drama written by David Stallings, from a concept by Antonio Minino- and inspired by Henrik Ibsen’s women’s liberation masterpiece, A Doll’s House.
The reading is directed by Antonio Minino and will be presented at The Theater at The 14th Street Y as part of their Free Readings series with two performances, on Saturday July 8 and Monday July10, at 7pm on both evenings.
Ibsen’s A Doll’s House is widely regarded as one of the world’s most popular and controversial works concerning female empowerment. Set in 19th century Norway, it details the collapse of a seemingly ideal marriage between a young, socially prominent housewife, Nora Helmer and her domineering banker husband, Torvald. When two characters from Nora’s humble past arrive unexpectedly at the family home during the Christmas holidays, a series of confrontations forces Nora to choose between her family and a chance at a life of her own as an independent single woman.
Stallings’ script for Leonora places the story in the tropical setting of Jamaica during Christmas of 1951- years before the Caribbean nation acquired its independence from Great Britain – and just months after a devastating Hurricane called Charlie had ravaged the island.
Leonora Hartell is now the play’s protagonist, a black Jamaican woman married to Tristan, a white British expatriate.
Heron plays the role of Shamar Campbell, a Jamaican banker of mixed ethnicity who is about to be fired by Leonora’s husband, the newly appointed Manager at his bank. Campbell arrives at the home of the couple to seek Leonora’s intervention to save his job – threatening to use secrets from her past to coerce her assistance.
According to Heron “The character is, of course, based on Ibsen’s Nils Krogstad in the original Doll’s House, and very often he has been portrayed as merely ruthless, cunning and amoral. But what fascinated me about David’s new script- and what Antonio and I have been exploring- is the wonderful latitude that is given to show another side of Shamar… Both with his own backstory and how he serves as a catalyst for Leonora’s self analysis and the decisions she will make at the end. Shamar and Leonora are people of color from the same rural Jamaican town who are now living in the white dominated big city. He is able to metaphorically hold a mirror up to show her what she is becoming. So he’s far from a pure villain. He’s a desperate man who needs his job and he’s willing to fight for it.”
For the Jamaican born Heron however- last seen on the New York stage in The New York Classical Theater’s The Winter’s Tale- the transposing of the story to the country of his birth is by far the most intriguing aspect of the project.
“I grew up hearing my parents and relatives talking about Hurricane Charlie and the state Jamaica was in afterwards,” he recalls. “And the socio economic chasms between the native born Jamaicans and the British aristocrats who were then still governing us, became even more apparent in the aftermath. It’s like there were two Jamaicas. We were still almost a decade away from independence in 1962, but Hurricane Charlie and other events were leading socially conscious Jamaicans to press for real change. So setting the play in Jamaica at this particular moment elevates the tensions and the hothouse atmosphere to an entirely new level. The issues of class, race and simmering social rebellion that now permeate the story give it an energy and dynamism that’s hugely exciting for me- both as an artist and as a Jamaican.”
The cast of Leonora also includes Nylda Marks as Leonora, and the playwright himself, David Stallings as Tristan, along with Daralyn Jay, Alicia Foxworth, Mick Hilgers and Aya Spence.
The reading is presented by Goode Productions and The Theater at The 14th Street Y and is free and open to the public.
The Theater at The 14th Street Y is located at 344 East 14th Street at First Avenue, New York, NY, 10003.