Tapping Into Race, And More
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Tapping Into Race, And More

Ted Merwin’s column appears monthly. He writes about theater for the paper and is the author of the award-winning “Pastrami on Rye,” a history of the Jewish deli.

Opposites attract, they say, and no less in same-sex relationships than in opposite-sex ones.

In Margaret Morrison’s first full-length play, “Home in Her Heart,” set in late-1930s London, a young black female pianist and a middle-aged Jewish male impersonator, both of whom are American expats, struggle to carry on an intense romance despite the forces of social repression arrayed against them — not the least of which are the genocidal ambitions of the Third Reich.

The play, which was well received when it ran at Stage Left Studio in 2012, has now reopened at the same theater.

Directed by Cheryl King, “Home in Her Heart” features the playwright in the role of Jimmie LeRoy, a 50-year-old cabaret (and former Yiddish vaudeville) star who dresses up as a man for her tap-dancing act. Accompanying her on the piano is Claire Hicks (Ava Jenkins), a widowed 35-year-old black woman. The couple, who started dating while performing together on the road, reach a crossroads in their relationship when Hitler menaces Great Britain, and the consulate orders all Americans to leave.

Morrison is a dance historian and tap dancer who was born into a secular Jewish family in Los Angeles; her mother’s family escaped from Berlin in 1933 and her father’s family emigrated from Poland. She grew up hearing a lot about politics; her father, she said, was an “armchair socialist,” a member of the teacher’s union who lionized Franklin Delano Roosevelt and championed the New Deal.

In an interview, the playwright told The Jewish Week that tap dance, an indigenous American art form, has a “complicated interracial history,” as a synthesis of slave dance styles and Irish step dance. She described Jimmie as a “macher, mensch and luftmensch,” an indomitable woman who “won’t let the world stop her.” Indeed, the playwright noted, “if you’re marginalized, you can fly under the radar, and not care what people think of you.”

Indeed, Jimmie insists that, even after their return to the States, she and Claire will find a way for their love to survive. But Claire has a lot to lose, in terms of both her family and her career, if she is exposed as a lesbian. She will no longer be seen, in the parlance of the time, as a “credit to her race.”

The play thus takes place at a time when events in the outside world are impinging on the characters’ relationship, even as Jimmie is in denial about the threat posed by the Third Reich. The characters are ultimately unable, Morrison said, to wall themselves off from the outside world, even as that world, as she put it, is “about to explode,” shattering — and claiming — so many millions of lives.

“Home in Her Heart” runs through March 10 at Stage Left Studio, 214 W. 30th St. The schedule varies. For tickets, $22, and information, visit www.stageleftstudio.net.

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