Susan Neville Goes “Into The Fire”

Into the Fire by Susan NevilleSusan Neville, the Butler professor/author who happens to be The Most Under-Rated Important Writer in Indianapolis – and Indiana, and The Midwest and The United States – has a dynamite new essay that was chosen as a “Solo” for the literary magazine Ploughshares.

“Into the Fire” is the title of the essay and Neville goes “into the fire” of her family’s past.

In old family letters from both her mother and her father’s side of the family, she comes across black and white photos of burning crosses – the symbol of the Ku Klux Klan.

Nevile acts as a literary detective to discover the female member of her family during the 1920s who was part of the women’s division of the Klan. (The Klan had its greatest stronghold in Indiana in the 1920s, and many women were part of it.)

Neville not only finds the likely Klanswoman (one she would have least suspected) but more importantly, she takes on the responsibility of her ancestorship, asking “What does this mean for me? Who am I?” as a white citizen in today’s world?

The essay is only available now as an ebook, and it is worth every cent of your $1.99.

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A New Theater Rises

The play was “The Brothers Paranormal.” The fact that it opened Friday night at the Fonseca Theatre Company’s sparkling and snappy new Basile Building on West Michigan Street in Haughville almost seemed to be a “paranormal” event in itself! In only a year and a half Bryan Fonseca, founder of The Phoenix Theatre, had created a new theater company committed to diversity and inclusion, completed an initial season of six plays (five staged at the art space Indy Convergence, one at The Linebacker Bar), and was opening a new season in the company’s own building (courtesy of Frank Basile, who was there to inaugurate the occasion, along with a full house of enthusiastic supporters.)

I am proud to be one of many “Collaborators” of the Fonseca Theatre Company, but I’m sorry to confess that I  struck out – fanned, dropped the ball, blew it, when Patricia Castaneda, President of the Board of Directors, asked me shortly before the ribbon-cutting if I knew any poems I could recite as a prelude to the occasion. I realized that the only poems I could recite in full were “An Irish Airman Foresees His Death” and “The Second Coming” (“Things fall apart/the center cannot hold. . ..”) by W,B. Yeats. Neither of those seemed appropriate, nor did a couple of others that came to mind – “With Rue My Hearty is Laden,” and “To An Athlete, Dying Young” by A. E. Housman. I need to learn some upbeat poems.

The ribbon-cutting, done jointly by Bryan and Patricia went off without a hitch, a dramatic slice that needed no poetic flourish.

Bryan Fonseca and Patrica Castenada, president of the Fonse

Bryan Fonseca and Patrica Castenada, president of the Fonseca Theatre Board, cutting the ribbon on the new Bastile Building, opening night of the theatre’s new season

Because of the title “The Brothers Paranormal,” I was expecting the play to be a straight comedy – I should have known better. There were comic moments, but the play was much more – a richly textured drama that illuminated levels of the current American experience of cultural and geographic displacement. Two Thai brothers start a business to investigate complaints of paranormal activity, and are asked to solve the haunting of an African-American couple who were forced to flee their home in New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina. There are ghosts, real and imagined, originating in New Orleans and Thailand, and along with the ghosts are the real challenges that come from loss of home and homeland.

It’s a special experience in the theater when an actor or actress not only conveys the character she plays but also manages to convey a universality to the role, to have her performance resonate in a universal way. For me that happened with Diane Tsao,  playing the role of the (literally) haunting Thai mother. My own mother was a Midwestern WASP from Missouri, but I felt her attitudes, her techniques, her ability to “hover,” in the expressions and delivery of the Thai mother as played by Ms. Tsao. Mothers may come from different origins, languages and cultures, but they are mothers under the skin.

The play will run through November 10. For information and tickets, visit https://fonsecatheatre.org.

The theater is not the only gift the Fonseca company brings to the west side neighborhood. Next door is their combo cultural center/ classroom/ rehearsal hall/community center. Jordan Flores Schwartz, associate producing director of the company, will continue her popular classes for children, and direct her first play in March.

Fonseca announced that “Our programs will include a community theatre program for residents to act, the gathering of oral histories for production and preservation, and technical training.” On a Saturday in September, the theatre held a rice and beans festival for the neighborhood. They have come to stay.

If I’d had time to think of a poem appropriate for the ribbon cutting on opening night, I’d have picked a Maya Angelou poem that suggests the spirit of the whole Fonseca enterprise:

“Still I rise. . .”

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Dan Wakefield

Dan Wakefield