Don't Miss: 'The Call'

5.16.2013

By Jerry Portwood

Playwright Tanya Barfield discusses the portrayal of African-American lesbians in her play focused on foreign adoptions

Pictured: Kerry Butler, Kelly AuCoin, Eisa Davis & Crystal A. Dickinson | photo by Jeremy Daniel

In Tanya Barfield's play The Call, a white couple considers whether to adopt a child from Africa, and their black lesbian couple friends offer their own perspective on the complicated decision. The themes of the play—a co-production with Primary Stages that's currently in an extended run through May 26 at Playwrights Horizonshave resonated with audiences, especially since foreign-born adoptions remain a popular, if problematic, decision for many. But even for those not enthralled by the idea of adoption, the fully formed depiction of the black lesbian couple Rebecca and Drea (played by Eisa Davis and Crystal A. Dickinson, respectively) is something not to be missed. 

Barfield, who is biracial and and lives with her partner, a white woman, and has adopted two children from Ethiopia herself, explained that writing lesbian characters that she could recognize was paramount. "I think the media allows a very narrow representation, and I wanted to have real people up there," she said during a recent interview. It's not her first time writing African-American characters, her previous play, Blue Door was a two-hander featuring black men, and her next play, which she's currently working on, is a two-character play about a lesbian couple that have been together for 25 years, although she says it's her first that doesn't deal directly with race.

"I don't think of myself as a political playwright," she said. "I'm just a human playwright. The same way I don't like being labeled a gay playwright or a female playwright. Are you a black playwright? That's not the way I think."

Barfield admits, however, that race and personal stories do remain charged in political ways that are important to her work. "There is a line in The Call that Drea says: 'Being black and gay isn't the same as being white and gay,' that I think is true." She also said that she's heard some lesbians in the audience express that they didn't feel like they had seen themselves reflected on stage in Drea and Rebecca. "I think they were holding a certain level of scrutiny, because they don't recognize themselves in that way, but by the second act, they were totally on board with them."

The Call runs through May 26 at Playwrights Horizons in New York City.

Watch a clip from the production below:

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