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‘Finding Home’ examines taboo subjects of depression in African-Americans

14 Mar

STAFF WRITER
SOUTH BERGENITE

Rutherford resident and playwright Keline Adams’ “Finding Home” focuses on physical and spiritual journeys, the stigma of depression in the African-American community, and how three generations of African American women living down South deal with it.

'Finding Home' was a labor or love for playwright Keline Adams. Pictured from left to right: Suzanne Darrell as 'Nattie,' Burnadair Lipscomb Hunt as 'Sylvia,' Azariah Gunn as 'Ella' and Brittany Erin as 'Sunny.' Ella and Sunny arrive in Clarelston and are greeted by Sylvia and Nattie. Characters share a much needed laugh, as Sunny and Sylvia begin to bond.Three female characters share a moment during the first night for Ella and Sunny at Sylvia's home.

PHOTOS/COURTESY OF HELEN L. COLLEN
‘Finding Home’ was a labor or love for playwright Keline Adams. Pictured from left to right: Suzanne Darrell as ‘Nattie,’ Burnadair Lipscomb Hunt as ‘Sylvia,’ Azariah Gunn as ‘Ella’ and Brittany Erin as ‘Sunny.’ Ella and Sunny arrive in Clarelston and are greeted by Sylvia and Nattie. Characters share a much needed laugh, as Sunny and Sylvia begin to bond.Three female characters share a moment during the first night for Ella and Sunny at Sylvia’s home.

The play is running at the Billie Holiday Theater in Brooklyn, N.Y., this month. Adams, a recipient of a playwriting fellowship from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, explains that “Finding Home” examines how not dealing with loss affects a family of African American women. “Writing ‘Finding Home,’ like most of my work, wasn’t really a choice. The story kind of found me and then just continued to grow,” Adams notes.

The synopsis: “With the walls of their Brooklyn apartment closing in on them, Ella and her daughter Sunny seek solace in a spur of the moment trip down South to visit Sylvia, the woman who raised Ella. But when buried truths began to surface, all hell breaks loose, and it quickly becomes clear that this dysfunctional family’s only hope for reaching a place of peace rests on their ability to face hard, painful realities, both past and present. Will this family sink or swim? Will these women have the courage to begin a journey toward truly finding home?”

The basic idea for the play formulated when Adams was on vacation in Charleston, S.C. in early 2000, lending a setting and some autobiographical issues that Adams related to the play, and laying down the groundwork.

“My parents had a summer home there and I completely fell in love with the area and I wanted to write something that took place in those surroundings,” Adams notes. “At the same time I was working on some issues with my relationship with my mom and also watching how my aunt battled with depression but no one was really talking about it. So all of those things sort of combined and the idea just grew from there. Then as the idea grew, the characters began to present themselves.”

The creative process was odd, Adams reveals. “I don’t have a regular, daily writing schedule like a lot of writers do,” Adams explains. “I kind of wish I had that sort of discipline, but I don’t. With ‘Finding Home,’ I would just jot down ideas whenever they came to me, whether it be at 2 a.m., or if I was out somewhere and just had an old receipt to write on. Then, usually, the idea or piece of dialog would eventually fit somewhere down the line. I also do a lot of talking out loud and pacing around my house when I’m in the middle of writing.”

After several years, Adams finished the first draft of ‘Finding Home’ in 2005. While the setting and conflicts somewhat mirrored Adams’ life, the characters spilled out onto the pages randomly. “My approach, as corny as it may sound, was I created the characters as they presented themselves to me,” Adams explains. One of the main characters is a combination of several women that I have known throughout my life…my mother, two of my great aunts,” Adams says. “I’ve done several drafts of the piece, lots of rewrites and probably about three readings and two staged readings. Even as I’m getting ready for this production I’m still making changes. I think probably it’s never really done. I can always see a way of strengthening the play, always working with my characters and their growth, trying to make sure their voice is clearly heard, their point of view is clear.”

Depression was a topic close to Adams’ heart, which is why the writer used her as an inspiration to open up a dialogue.

“My aunt was probably one of the sweetest people I’ve ever known. But it was clear to me and others in my family that she struggled with depression. No one really ever talked about it, even in later years when people seeking therapeutic assistance became much more common,” Adams reveals.

Although depression is not as hush-hush an issue as it used to be, the stigma in the African-American community still exists, Adams explains. “I really wanted to explore that topic area along with taking a look at that delicate mother/daughter dynamic and why that relationship often times is so tricky. Culturally, depression in the African-American community has always been viewed as a sign of personal weakness, not a health problem. Oftentimes, it is minimized and so there is not a proactive approach to change the condition, and there is a stigma and judgment attached to seeking therapy.”

In terms of African American women, the depression rate is estimated to be 50 percent higher than that of Caucasian women, Adams explains. “Historically, there is a look for support from the community/family and the religious community in particular for African Americans and if mental health care is sought, oftentimes it tends to be later in life so, as a result, at later stages of illness. I think as more and more African-Americans in the public eye begin to talk openly about struggles with depression, the taboo is slowly beginning to lift,” Adams says.

After writing the play, Adams pitched for production. The Billie Holiday Theatre accepted. “Finding Home” was done as a staged reading at New Perspectives Theatre Company in New York City. Adams met playwright/director, Jackie Alexander, who contacted Adams and persisted that ‘Finding Home,’ which was done as a reading last year under his direction, become a full production he directs.

In a sense, Finding Home is somewhat symbolic of Adams’ personal journey. “Finding home to me means feeling really comfortable in your own skin…getting to that place where, even when these things do arise, you feel like you can move through them and come out okay on the other side, to me is moving toward finding home,” Adams explains, noting that she’s in that zone now, comfortable as a writer, playwright and mother. “I don’t have to be as intricately involved in the day to day of my children’s lives, and we are moving to a place of not just parent/child relationship but adult to adult friendship, which is so wonderful and freeing for me. I feel this shift within myself, as I’m confidently stepping into my own power, not so worried about other peoples’ opinions about who and what I am. The journey continues. Staying open and learning as you go is a lifelong gift if you choose view it that way. The journey for me toward finding home continues, hopefully forever.”

Finding Home runs March 2-31. For more information, visit http://www.thebillieholiday.org/current.html.

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