At the beginning of “A house is not a house”, the new play which debuts this weekend at Matthews TheaterA hard-working correctional officer, David undergoes several big changes in his life.
At 48, he divorced his wife. He is about to retire. He also plans to sell his house and start a new chapter in his life.
Meanwhile, a woman he saw has become pregnant, possibly with his child, and David is trying – with mixed success – to push his son, Jamal, out of the house and into adulthood. .
The father-son relationship becomes complicated as David invites another friend, Amber, an employee of the local district attorney’s office, to live in their basement, and Jamal is ensnared in a local drug deal.
The two-act play, set in New York 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 piece 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 run by Matthews Playhouse in partnership with the Group of African American playwrights.
WFAE Channel’s Nick spoke to the play’s author about the new work ahead of its opening.
Nick de la Canal: I read that your uncle played drums on it 1969 recording of “A House Is Not a House” with Ella Fitzgerald. Is it true?
Kenyatt Godbolt: It’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 concerts as a kid.
From the Channel: Well, let’s talk about this play, and in particular, I wanted to ask about the main character, David. Who is he at the start of the play and what are some of the conflicts he faces?
Godbolt: Well, at the start of the play, it’s a man going through a rocky divorce as well as the time in his life where he’s trying to get his son out of the house and become more independent, and it’s a challenge to many men, or single parents, who are not with their partner, but still have to raise a child. So that’s the main conflict.
From the Channel: Yeah, his son tries to get into the music business, but he too, I believe, towards the end of the play, turns to selling drugs?
Godbolt: Well, her son is caught up in the – I would say, the image versus the reality of life. And he goes through struggles that mirror a lot of the struggles of the hip hop community in the 1990s, and sometimes still to this day. So I wanted this character to be a composite character of a lot of guys I knew growing up.
From the Channel: There’s also this third character, Amber, who works for the district attorney’s office. And she comes to live with David. He invites her into the house. How does his character play into it?
Godbolt: I see her as the antagonist, that is to say, she is David’s enemy, if you will, but also his lover. And sometimes a friend of mine said – for lack of a better term – you can sleep with the enemy. And keeping that in mind helps.
From the Channel: It also seems that some of the turns in the play are based on moments of major life transitions, such as separating from a spouse or selling a house and moving. What do you think of these great life transitions that lend themselves to self-reflection?
Godbolt: Well, I think often things happen for a reason, and time is the most precious thing we have as human beings. So in these moments of deep crisis, it forces us to reflect and ponder the big pictures, and I hope this piece captures that energy – of someone retiring, selling a house, and trying to make their son a man.
From the Channel: It will also be the first time that this piece will be performed in front of a live audience. What’s it 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 from what I imagined. And when talking with the actors, we talk about choices. And I think that’s great, because the benefit of having someone actually do your play is that they bring their own experiences, and as a playwright, I really like to see that.
From the Channel: What do you hope audiences take away from this show?
Godbolt: I hope the audience can take away the importance of forgiveness, especially when it comes to family members. I also want the public to forget the importance of education and making good choices.
“A House is Not A Home” runs at Matthews Playhouse’s Fullwood Theater on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from August 19 through August 28.
The theater will host a jazz showcase before performances on August 19 and 26, and an audience discussion with the playwright after the matinee on August 21.
Tickets range from $12 to $20, plus a paid performance on August 20