features + interviews

This Play Wouldn’t Exist Without Her Students

040.Ato-Blankson-Wood-and-Juan-Castano-in-MCC-Theaters-TRANSFERS-photo-by-Joan-Marcus

Ato Blankson-Wood and Juan Castano in Transfers. Photo: Joan Marcus.

[Full article published in TDF Stages, April 24, 2018.]

How Lucy Thurber’s new drama was inspired by a pair of her pupils


Obie-winning playwright Lucy Thurber is as interested in talking about her teaching experiences as her new drama Transfers at MCC Theater. That makes sense since her world-premiere play is inspired by students she worked with as MCC’s Youth Company Playwriting Lab Director. Like these talented yet underprivileged teens, Thurber found salvation in education, which helped her escape a challenging upbringing in rural Massachusetts. Many of her previous works (The InsurgentsKillers and Other FamilyThe Hill Town Plays) seemed semi-autobiographical, with college-bound female characters trying to break away from family addiction and violence. But in Transfers Thurber expands her worldview with a narrative that examines race and privilege in addition to class.

“Education is the white horse that appeared at dawn and rode in to save me,” Thurber says, but adds that she hopes her “lens has gotten wider and my circle of reference has expanded. In my earlier plays I was writing from the perspective of somebody who was trying to enter another class. I hope this play is more successful at making the room round.”

Transfers follows Clarence (Ato Blankson-Wood) and Cristofer (Juan Castano), two young men of color from the South Bronx vying for a full scholarship to a fancy fictional college in Massachusetts. This competition kicks up complicated feelings for three adults involved in the process: foundation staffer David (Glenn Davis), college lit professor Geoffrey (Leon Addison Brown) and rugby coach Rosie (Samantha Soule).

In this story about being seen — by the college, by the community, by wealthier peers — the students reveal events from their intertwined pasts. But most of the narrative is not about looking back but taking hold of future possibilities. A powerhouse exchange between Rosie and Cristofer toward the end of the play illustrates how well Thurber understands the perspective of the “scholarship kid” at different ages, and how those who view privilege from the outside in their youth carry that mind-set forever, regardless of how their circumstances change.

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