Dallas — The landmark 1967 Supreme Court decision, based on the Loving vs. Virginia case, threw out the antiquated mandates that some states still held opposing interracial relationships, including marriage. The love story and strong marriage of Mildred (Black and Native American) and Richard Loving (white) has been the subject of a number of books, plays and documentaries.
Playwright Beto O’Byrne developed Loving and Loving with Meropi Peponides, bringing a 21st century perspective to the 50-year-old story of the Loving marriage by adding a biracial character who looks back on the Lovings’ relationship, and her own childhood. The play premiered in 2017 in a co-production between Radical Evolution, a company co-founded by O’Byrne, and the Harold Clurman Lab Theatre in New York City.
Morgana Wilborn, who is biracial, directs Bishop Arts Theatre Center’s regional premiere of the play. Wilborn follows the directive of the original production of this three-hander, adding locally recorded interviews with biracial offspring of parents from different races and cultures. (See our interview with Wilborn here.)
The story of Mildred and Richard continues to attract creative attention because it is a real-life testament to the power of love — sexual, spiritual, enduring — that binds two people, no matter their race, color, gender, religion, or background. Love draws couples together by some magnetism far stronger than the often-bizarre restraints of the local culture. Shakespeare blessed such unions in a famous sonnet: “Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments.”
Here, we meet Richard (sweetly love-struck DR Mann Hanson) and Mildred (determined, alluring Camille Monae) as they both sway to Sam Cook’s “You Send Me.” We also see Maya (the charismatic Colby Calhoun) looking on as these young parents deliberate about moving back to their hometown in Virginia, despite the laws forbidding their very union.
Maya directs a question to the audience, asking biracial people if they know how their parents met. A series of short, pre-recorded interviews issues from a speaker on the stage in response to this question. During the Sunday matinee, the speakers were turned away from the audience at the outset, making the voices hard to hear, but that was corrected before Maya asked another question.
Calhoun plays multiple characters, adroitly shifting into a deputy sheriff, a judge and the ambitious ACLU attorney who pushes the Lovings toward a higher court in this important case.
Safwan Choudhury outfits the couple to suit the period, which means jeans and shirt for him and cotton, waist-hugging dresses for her. The simple scenic design (not credited in the program) uses an effective collection of boards to suggest the angles and features of a house, the interior populated with wood chairs, tables and stools.
As the 80-minute play proceeds, Hanson’s Richard reminds us of the hard times endured by a day laborer out of work. He is also gently caring to his tired, pregnant wife, rubbing her feet and holding her close when she frets. Monae’s loyal Mildred encourages her husband and uses every penny he brings in to support their growing family. They only argue over whether to move back to Virginia from D.C., where their union is legal, and face possible imprisonment.
Meanwhile, Maya asks Mildred if she is really “high yellow,” as a classmate called her. Mildred makes it clear that Maya is a member of a loving family. Calhoun’s Maya continues to insert her questions of other biracial people, as the script refers to specific experiences. The recorded voices telling stories about having parents of different races vary in their impact. Some are clear and dramatic. One woman, recording her response to the question of when she realized she was biracial, recalls the trauma of being told that the woman on the playground bench can’t be her mother because she is white. Sharpness and anger inform that voice.
A few stories are more predictably academic as the adult speakers refer to the race they identify with most closely, or how they are trying to seek more information on the other sides of their genetic heritage. Some of the questions sound more like a panel discussion than a play.
Maya asks, “What part of your culture do you want to pass on to your children?” The recorded responses, while thoughtful and illuminating, sometimes interrupt the dramatic arc of what is happening to the Lovings. Still, Loving and Loving reminds us that our private actions, whether based on loving kindness or on angry fear, have consequences not only in our immediate society, but for the future that newer generations will inhabit.
In this story, the courage of two people had implications for their own children — and many others still not dreamed of.