Hibernian Hall returns to in-person performance with ‘Smoked Oysters’
Hibernian Hall in Nubian Square is once again producing in-person performances, reopening its theatrical doors for the first time since 2019 with “Smoked Oysters” by Hibernian Hall’s 2021/22 Playwright-in-Residence Mary McCullough. The powerful rumination on a Black family is as timely as it was during its January 2020 debut at Greater Egleston High School.
Initially, “Smoked Oysters,” directed by Dawn M. Simmons, shows the portrait of a thriving Black family. Ulysses (Paul Benford-Bruce), a retired professor, plans a vacation for his beloved wife Arnetta (Dayenne CB Walters), and they both burst with pride for their son Bernard (Zair Silva). But when Ulysses gets lost on a walk home and is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, cracks begin to form in the family’s existence.
“‘Smoked Oysters’ allows the audience to peep through a keyhole of what a real family looks like,” says Haris Lefteri, Interim Program Director for Hibernian Hall at Madison Park Development Corporation. “It is an examination of sickness and health, of family patterns and relationships and, most importantly, a paradoxical mix of energy and exhaustion that seems to seep from each one of the characters’ pores.”
The play was a long time coming for playwright McCullough. She was inspired by an argument she overheard a senior couple having. The wife couldn’t understand why the husband wouldn’t leave the house. McCullough jotted down the few lines of dialogue and put them away. Years later, she brought the dialogue back out for a play lab run by TC Squared Theatre Company, and she began wondering what reasons Ulysses might have for staying in.
Though the action of the play is based on the discovery of Ulysses’ disease, Alzheimer’s isn’t the only theme of the show. Family dynamics and the psychological ramifications of a crisis are explored within the piece, all increasingly relevant after nearly two years of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Smoked Oysters” runs at Hibernian Hall through Sunday, Sept. 26. Tickets are $30 for general admission adults, $15 for students and seniors, and can be purchased online or at the door. Face masks are required during the show. The performance will be recorded and streamed online in December.
“Families come in different configurations, and they all eventually do a generational dance, where roles become blurred and reversed,” says Candelaria Silva-Collins, a longtime member of Friends of Hibernian Hall. “The family dynamics were recognizable to me, and the dialogue felt like I was eavesdropping on an actual family, and not one that had been creatively imagined. I recommend. The play deals with serious issues, but it does not burden.”