Hope Lynne Price-Lindsay’s The Intruders is an entertaining satire about the contemporary wave of gentrification in DC that packs lots of laughs, but fails to do more than scratch the surface of a pressing issue. Directed by Vera J. Katz, and produced by The New Millennium Howard Players, The Intruders is one of over one hundred performances included in the 9th Annual INTERSECTIONS Festival.
The Intruders centers on the observations of longtime DC residents, friends and Ella (Judy E. Leak), Avis (E. Dawn Samuel) and Ella’s professional adult children Jennifer (Farah Benkahla) and Elliot (Neko Ramos) about the influx of white wealthy couples purchasing homes in their community– who Avis calls “urban pioneers”. Their conversations occur on the front porch of Ella’s modest home — a yellow façade, gate, two patio chairs, and a small table. “I used to know everybody on this block” Ella sighs, “now I’m a stranger in my own neighborhood.”
The family is skeptical about the changes the neighborhood is undergoing and angered by the emergence of a newsletter that details a long list of mandates issued by their new Block Association. One of their new neighbors, Zylinksi (Jim Epstein), leads the charge of the Block Association to prevent activities that he believes will depreciate the property values of their homes. He spends much of his time patrolling the community, looking into the windows of his neighbors, and making notes about the violations he finds. Zylinksi is portrayed as well-meaning and annoyingly aloof about why Ella and other residents would be offended by the amenities that their new neighbors bring to the community. “In colonial times they sent missionaries, but in contemporary America they build a Starbucks.” Elliot laments. This is especially amusing for anyone living in DC who has witnessed the influx of corporations that previously avoided predominant POC neighborhoods like the plague. Starbucks has functioned as a kind of white-flag, a sign that higher earning inhabitants are in the region. Who else would pay $6 for a cup of coffee?
The family is perplexed and amused by what they consider to be warning signs of gentrification; adults riding bicycles, white people with toy size dogs, and claw foot tubs among others. Elliot is especially critical of the changes. His monologues in the play provide the primary historical context about gentrification– the disenfranchisement, inequitable housing, and racialized zoning policies minority populations living in D.C. have experienced. Unfortunately, Elliot’s assessments are presented as embittered rhetoric, rather than important examinations about the real-time effects of gentrification.
After a strong first act, the play meanders through a series of catch-phrase, knee jerk perspectives about gentrification that rarely go beyond surface assessments. The dialogues which occur between Zylinkski and Elliot are at times revelatory, but often fall into simplified polarizations– an angsty white liberal pit against an aggressive black man. In one tense exchange, Eliot confronts Zylinksi about the newsletter and the encroachment of urban pioneers into the neighborhood he has lived in his entire life. Though Eliot makes strong points, his volume and assertiveness frighten Zylinksi, who threatens to call the police. Other tensions between Zylinksi and members of Ella’s family are quickly, and too easily resolved.
The play concludes with a significant but expected tragedy that catalyzes an odd, unbelievable kumbaya sentimentality between Zylinksi on behalf of the Block Association, and Ella’s family. In many ways, the tragedy felt like a stand-in for a difficult dialogue. While these missteps do not take away from the overall great performances by cast members, especially Judy E. Leak and E. Dawn Samuel, it did seem like a missed opportunity to more thoroughly and creatively explore the phenomenon of gentrification in the District.
The Intruders had two performances, March 3 and 4, 2018 at the Atlas Performing Arts Center.
The Intruders by Hope Lynne Price-Lindsay. Director: Vera J. Katz. Featuring: Judy E. Leak, E. Dawn Samuel, Jim Epstein, Neko Ramos, Martece Caudle, Todd Leatherbury, Farah Benkahla. Understudy: James Curtis Bowers. Set Designer: Greg Jackson. Stage Manager: Antoinette Fisher-Green. Technical Director: India Soodoo. Produced by The New Millennium Howard Players. Reviewed by Angela Carroll.