Adobuere Ediama portrays one of nine characters
in “Mr.Joy” Photo: Craig Bailey/ArtsEmerson
By Tom Coughlin
Amid rising tensions in class and social inequity in America, “Mr.Joy: The Neighborhood Tour” tackles these issues head on. The play, a one-woman show, was directed by David Dower of ArtsEmerson, who worked in partnership with writer Daniel Beaty. Their mission was to bring the production to neighborhoods that might not otherwise be exposed to live theatre, and would benefit from seeing a show based on the very social issues these neighborhoods face.
Dower, who formerly worked as a community and political organizer on issues of social justice, showcased the work with help from the Boston Mayor’s Office of Resilience and Racial Equity. He partnered with I Dream Boston, a community organization that works in minority communities and tries to empower individuals to rewrite the story of race and class inequity in America.
With help from I Dream Boston, Dower brought this play to four distinct neighborhoods – Hyde Park, East Boston, Allston, and Dorchester. According to Dower, audience members were surprised to see several fellow community members, both partaking in and being immersed in the production.
“The audiences in these different communities were surprised to see the [diverse] audience.” Dower said, “The audience would comment, ‘I never sit in a room that looks like this’.”
The play features a black transgender character, Ashes, who is forced to attend church by her father, and encounters discrimination by the community. The plot shows prejudices still at large within the black community. According to Dower, this was one of the first aspects people mentioned in the talkback commentaries after the show.
The play’s focus on race, gentrification, and class was Dower’s intention, while also shining a light on social issues that specifically affect the black community. This includes the lack of availability of mental health, among other services. Adobuere Ebiama is the solo actress who plays nine different characters of varying race, age, and gender. The story focuses on community reactions after an assault on a beloved community member. Since the show originally debuted in October 2015, Dower and Beaty would participate in talkback after the show.
“When we did it in October of 2015, people in the audience routinely would say to us ‘we need this in our neighborhood’,” says Dower speaking on how the play encouraged people to bring more attention to the show.
Presenting “Mr.Joy” was not always part of Dower’s plan, but was the idea of Beaty.Dower and his associate, P. Carl, have such respect for Beaty that they let him create his own path at ArtsEmerson.
The work of “Mr.Joy” is not yet done. Beaty and Dower will continue to push forward with I Dream Boston to bring this show to more communities. Further work on this production will allow more people to experience this performance. Dower stated, “I never left social justice work behind. And it’s the impact [on the community] I’m after.”