Playwright Leah-Simone Bowen knows better than to plan a quick exit from a reading of her play The Hallway. "People want to talk to me about it," she explains on the phone from her home in Toronto. "I usually get people saying things like 'that's not what [I] expected to happen.'"
That's exactly what she likes to hear, since part of the intention in her work is to take familiar stereotypes and archetypes and flip them on their heads.
The play is a historical piece set in an African-American rooming house in Harlem during the devastating heat wave of 1936. The cast of characters includes a tenacious landlady named Mrs. Rockford, a Russian immigrant named Lev, plus an odd collection of struggling tenants, all of whom nurture a seven-year-old girl who lives there.
The character of Mrs. Rockford gave Bowen the opportunity to play with the archetype of the Southern mammy. "In some ways, the landlady will seem familiar to people. But I really wanted to mess with that rigid structure of that sassy, maternal older black woman who keeps a family together," she explains. "This character is sexual, she has a sex life. And she doesn't have, or want, children."
With the character of Lev, Bowen has taken on the model of the white saviour, "He's hilarious. He's a darling. But ultimately, he is not a good person."
At Prismatic, The Hallway will be presented as a staged reading using Halifax actors. And yes, Bowen will be there for a talk-back afterwards.