In 'A House is Not A Home,' a Black father and son learn to forgive
At the beginning of "A House is Not A Home," the new play opening this weekend at Matthews Playhouse, hard-working corrections officer David is undergoing several big life changes.
At the age of 48, he's divorcing from his wife. He's preparing to retire. He's also planning to sell his home, and start a new chapter in life.
Meantime, a woman he's been seeing has become pregnant, possibly with his child, and David is trying — with mixed success — to nudge his son, Jamal, out of the house and into adulthood.
The father-son relationship complicates as David invites another female friend, Amber, an employee of the local district attorney's office, to live in their basement, and Jamal becomes ensnared in a local drug sweep.
The two-act play, set in New York City in the 1990s, is the product of local writer Kenyatt M. Godbolt of Concord, who says he wanted to explore themes of single parenthood, hip hop culture and family forgiveness in his work.
The play borrows its title from the jazz standard "A House is Not A Home" made famous in part by Ella Fitzgerald, and the script won the 2022 Playwrights Festival conducted by Matthews Playhouse in partnership with the African American Playwrights Group.
WFAE's Nick de la Canal spoke with the play's author about the new work ahead of its opening.
Nick de la Canal: I read that your uncle is actually playing the drums on that 1969 recording of "A House is Not A Home" with Ella Fitzgerald. Is that true?
Kenyatt Godbolt: That's correct. My uncle's name was Freddie Waits, and he was a well-known drummer. And I grew up watching him play the drums and accompanying him to gigs when I was a child.
De la Canal: Well, let's talk about this play, and in particular, I wanted to ask about the main character, David. Who is he at the beginning of the play, and what are some of the conflicts that he's facing?
Godbolt: Well, at the beginning of the play, he is a man who is going through a hectic divorce as well as the time in his life in which he is trying to make his son leave the house and become more independent, and this is a challenge of many men, or single parents, who are not with their significant other, yet they still have to raise a child. So that's the main conflict.
De la Canal: Yeah, his son is trying to get into the music business, but he also, I believe, towards the end of the play, turns toward selling drugs?
Godbolt: Well, his son is caught in the — I would say, the image versus the reality of life. And he goes through some struggles that reflect a lot of the struggles of the hip hop community in the 1990s, and sometimes still to this day. So I wanted that character to be a composite character of many of the guys I knew growing up.
De la Canal: There's also this third character, Amber, who works for the DA's office. And she comes to live with David. He invites her into the home. How does her character play into this?
Godbolt: I envision her as the antagonist, meaning she is someone who is David's enemy, if you will, but also his lover. And at times, a friend of mine said — for lack of a better term — you can be sleeping with the enemy. And keeping that in mind helps.
De la Canal: It also seems like some of the turning points in the play hinge on moments of big life transitions, like separating from a spouse or selling a home and moving. What do you think it is about those big life transitions that lend themselves to self-reflection?
Godbolt: Well, I think many times things happen for a reason, and time is the most valuable thing that we have as human beings. So in these deep moments of crisis, it requires us to reflect and think about the big pictures, and I hope that this play captures that energy — of someone who is retiring, selling a house, and trying to make his son become a man.
De la Canal: This is also going to be the first time that this play is performed in front of a live audience. What's it been like to see your characters come to life with real actors on a real stage?
Godbolt: I think it's wonderful, because the actors bring something different than what I envisioned. And having conversations with the actors, we talk about choices. And I think it's great, because the benefit of having someone really do your play is they bring their own experiences, and as a playwright, I really enjoy seeing that.
De la Canal: What do you hope that audiences take away from this show?
Godbolt: I hope that audiences can take away the importance of forgiveness, specifically when it comes to family members. I also want audiences to take away the importance of education and making good choices.
"A House is Not A Home" runs at Matthews Playhouse's Fullwood Theatre on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from Aug. 19 - Aug. 28.
The theater will host a jazz showcase prior to the performances on Aug. 19 and 26, and an audience talkback with the play's author following the Aug. 21 matinee.
Tickets range from $12 - $20, in addition to a pay-what-you-can performance on Aug. 20