A Caribbean play in Far Rockaway in Queens, NY, hailed the contribution of domestic workers to black communities.
‘Happy Endings’, directed by Chris Spears and written by Thomas Douglas Ward, challenged the portrayal of domestic workers as quislings, reactionaries and disloyal to the Black Collective. In this emotive presentation, domestics are very much part of the resistance, although their approach is markedly taciturn and subtle. Theirs is a revolution nurtured by their maternal, feminine wisdom and energy. Domestic workers are selfless, protective of their children and their lineage.
In melodramatic fashion, Ward’s actors deliver his theme with near perfect timing. Befittingly set in America’s South, two sisters learn some dreadful news.
We cringe with scenes of their lamenting over the divorce of the Harrisons, their employer. They wail, stomp and beat their chest, evoking stereotypical images of plantation life and the role of house slaves. They are consummately empathetic, feeling and expressing their employers’ every sentiment.
Their wrought emotions never abate.
They cry and wail on word that they are at risk of being terminated as the marriage of the Harrisons flounders. They implore and cajole them to mend their union, mindful of the dire consequences. “I begged them. We should have plopped down on our knees. Please don’t do this. Don’t victimize the babies,” – their recount is laced with less than flattering and tongue-in-cheek descriptions of Mrs. Harrison’s philandering. There is no time for levity, though.
With their livelihood and pension at stake, they fold, unable to contain their apprehension for the future. “Mr. Harrison had promised to take care of me for the rest of my life. I need my pension.”
The women recall the quotidian indignities that domestic workers face. “We iron and wash. [We are never trusted]. They check our pockets and even count the sugar cubes. Amid an emotional tsunami their nephew appears. Sartorially dressed and contemporary, he represents another side of the black experience – one that is disconnected and not fully appreciative of the sacrifice that defines the past. He’s befuddled by his aunts’ reaction and raises the subject of pride, race and identity. He recoils at the scene questioning his aunts’ sense of history. “You are crying because of Massa’s problems?” But his interjection is rebuffed, one aunt challenging his self-absorption and naivety.
The stage is now set for a battle of ideas and the need to revisit history through the lens of these actors.
“It ain’t human to have feelings for your bosses’ sorrows?” one aunt quips.
Another goes further:
“For my worries – no charge; for my advice, your clothes and your college – no charge. When was the last time you paid for food, for rent…”
Her words pierce the young man’s bravado. He now understands that he will also be impacted by the Harrisons’ decision. He realizes that his aunts’ tears are for their daunting future and not their employers’ predicament. It is a Eureka Moment. He concedes, “I am indebted to you.” He breaks down.
The lamentations are contagious. Mass hysteria leaves us guessing the denouement of this highly charged play.
The more the domestics explain their position is the more we recoil from having ever used derogatory words to describe them and their work. Ward’s message is poignant and unwavering: Domestic workers are invaluable, and we owe them everything.
Their refrain: “We must stick around for what we are owed,” is as combative as it gets.
Eventually, Providence smiles on the weary, and fear and uncertainty are replaced with hope and assurance. News travel quickly; the Harrisons reverse their decision to part ways. This means that years of toiling as domestics will not come to naught and in a few years, they will reap their meed. There is unbridled jubilation as the women assert their importance to their families and all of society.
Domestics have sacrificed, not for themselves, but for their families and generations to come. Resistance comes in diverse ways. Activism can be quiet but equally efficacious. Domestic workers have proven that much. Quietly, they have shaped the narrative for so many. This we must acknowledge. With a handful of able actors, Ward captures this enduring truth in ‘Happy Endings’.
Feedback: [email protected] or follow him on Twitter@glenvilleashby
I will eat a piece of Exxon Christmas Cake with your ingredients inside.
Nov 30, 2023One year later… By Shervin Belgrave Kaieteur News – The Nationals Schools Cycling Track and Field Championships is in full swing but the coach who allegedly raped a female athlete while he...
Nov 30, 2023
Nov 30, 2023
Nov 30, 2023
Nov 30, 2023
Nov 30, 2023
Freedom of speech is our core value at Kaieteur News. If the letter/e-mail you sent was not published, and you believe that its contents were not libellous, let us know, please contact us by phone or email.