On the surface, Pink House is a simple tale of Shira’s family, home and life. But underlying it is complex themes of Jewishness, family, trauma, and loss, spun deftly through a clever script. The play spans across two timelines (past and present), two countries (France and America), and two families that interrupt each other. Nonetheless, there are clear transitions that don’t leave the audience confused by the jumping around in time and space.
Due to rising antisemitism in France, Shira leaves behind her Yiddish-speaking Jewish family to find safety in the US. The play begins with the funeral of Shira’s daughter, Clara. In dying, Shira is left with Peri, Clara’s adopted daughter. Shira has a chance to build a new family with Peri, but their relationship is strained from the beginning. However, as sounds from Shira’s Jewish family haunt Shira, the two become closer and the message is clear: family goes beyond blood. This all-female play is about a generation of women that are interconnected through their influence on one another. Women act either as those traumatised and harmed by male, antisemitic abuse, protectors of the traumatised, or a trigger of male abuse. Whichever roles they play, it’s evident that women are meant to be the centre of the piece.
The Jewish references, rightly authentic given that writer Madison Pollack is Jewish, represent all that Shira grew up with. It makes the play very personal for Jewish audiences – it even starts and ends in a Jewish way, with a Jewish funeral and Yiddish love song respectively. In comparison, Pollack imagined Peri as a non-Jewish person of colour. Peri being a person of colour is hinted throughout the script but is made even more obvious by this production’s casting Fatima Jawara, a black actress for Peri. Despite adoption being her only connection to Shira, they take comfort in each other in a way that transcends cultural, geographical and religious differences. It’s clear the audience is meant to draw parallels between Shira in the past and Peri in the present. Not only have they both lost their only family at the time, but their actions mirror each other. Shira’s need for coming to terms with her trauma shows not only in her being haunted by her family’s voices, but also by the metaphorical set that consists of cages with young Shira’s belongings and suspended ribbons as if her thoughts are always suspended in the past. Although the use of the ribbons throughout the play is up to interpretation, it doesn’t distract from what the audience is meant to focus on, which among many things, is the connection that Shira and Peri have.
In this age of #MeToo and growing antisemitism, the subject matters of this production are sadly all too relevant. By the end of the play, the audience is left to rethink the traditional ideas of family and yet this bittersweet show is a good representation of what it means to be Jewish and/or a person of colour: you have family wherever you go.
Pink House was on at PQA @ Riddle’s Court
Image: Iva Dimova