Harrison David Rivers Depicts a Writer’s Return Home
by Patricia L. Morin
Forty-year-old writer Jesse Howard (H. Adam Harris) wants to unpack all the important experiences that led him to where he is today. Taking refuge in his childhood home, Jesse hears his mother saying again: “You want to have a happy plate, don’t you?” And his pious father, who told him to keep his gayness a secret, still watches Fox News all day.
Torn between the past and the present, depicting a constant state of discomfort, New Conservatory Theatre Center’s “Interlude,” a new audio drama by Harrison David Rivers, draws Jesse Howard to the beginning of his roots in Manhattan, Kansas—”The Little Apple”—during Covid.
Finding an old tape recorder in his parent’s basement, Jesse dictates a literary stream of consciousness for a “future” listener—and hears his own story. Harris’ resonant voice echoes playwright Rivers’ soft, lyrical words.
Pieces of Jessie’s life fall around him as his story is reflected back to him through his own words and images. He relives the murder of his first love in an anti-gay hate crime. He recounts his life in Rome, with Luca, his new lover and grounding force.
At times we want to confuse the writer with his character, as Jesse begins “midstream.” Like a good teacher, Jesse keeps us on edge, “de-stabilizing” us. Throughout the play, we ask ourselves, as he asks himself: “What’s going on?”
We follow Jesse through funny and touching events—his first crush, boy scout failure, and the stop-dead shouting insult by his soccer teammate using the N-word. He recalls being surprised by race hatred and homophobia as a kid in Kansas. “And being Black in all of that.” Confusion grabs him, and he wonders, “How do I survive all this?” He harks back the comfort of his parents confronting the N-word boy’s parents.
Intense feelings ebb and flow with each event and challenge.
Elton Bradman provides superb sound design for a subtle, fluid atmosphere. Quick-fingered Jazz interludes separate six free-flowing segments. Carlos Aceves supplies vivid images to create a mood for the soliloquy, emphasizing NCTC’s new form: a pure-voice play without any stage scenery. A lovely syncopation.
After George Floyd’s murder in May 2020, Jesse stops writing. He recounts the death toll of Black lives from Michael Brown, to the Emanuel Baptist Church, to Breonna Taylor, and the whole BLM movement. Jesse freezes in a funk. He flounders.
The Covid shroud covers him in loneliness and emptiness. Like so many of us, he despairs, making us ask, “How has this changed me?”
Many, like Jesse, go deep into a den of depression, needing release.
Jesse’s unraveling shows us more than the power of self-reflection. “Interlude” spotlights the power of recognizing our feelings—and the need to be heard.
Then, Jesse shockingly answers those questions—in a turning point of the play.
NCTC’s “Interlude” is a simple, yet deeply incisive memory-play about the power of reflection and loneliness during Covid; and also paves the path for a new, exciting form of theater—a welcome relief from Zoom. A must see.
“Interlude” by Harrison David Rivers, directed by ShawnJ West, by New Conservatory Theatre Center, New Voices/New Works. Streaming at: NCTC.SF – to April 14, 2021.
Cast: H. Adam Harris