Every fifth Wednesday, The Drama Center’s Playwright Forum invites members of the community to view the staged reading of a play, free of charge. On Aug. 30, Patsy B. Dawkins’ “The Dragonflies’ Daughters” was presented for review. Following the performance, the cast, audience and playwright were encouraged to discuss any comments or concerns that may have come to light during the reading.
With an audience of less than 20, audience seats were positioned in front of the five actresses and narrator delivering the play’s dialogue. Members of the cast were dressed casually and occasionally fumbled through their lines; though in their initial read through, they did an impressive job bringing their characters to life. This intimate setting inspired an honest dialogue, as the reading was intended for the playwright to receive feedback and make notes before the final stages of their production.
Without costume, props or a stage to move around, engaging the audience rested solely on the cast’s vocal inflection and facial expressions. Even though the cast gave an informal rendition, their characters were brought to life in a spectacular way as the humorous and heartbreaking story began to unfold.
The plot of “The Dragonflies’ Daughters” centers around a conversation between Aderine and Sethalene Douglass in the wake of their mother’s death. At their family beach house in Florida, the two sisters uncover shocking information about their past through a series of letters between their mother and a woman named Naomi Watts, who ultimately provides a piece of the titular line, “you know there are people who look to dragonflies to help them find the right path.”
Consequently, the play addresses the two women finding their path all over again in middle age as they realize the complexities within their own family dynamics and the complexities of the emotions within themselves regarding these changes.
Throughout the reading, the presentation of the dialogue elicited plenty of laughs from the audience, which was countered by the heavier subject material. Over the course of the play, we see the sisters struggling with the very human conditions: the discovery of an affair, loss of a spouse, loss of a parent as well as the usual bickering and banter one would expect from siblings.
Another plot point of “The Dragonflies’ Daughters” dealt with was race relations, as flashbacks took the audience back as early as the 1940s. The primary focus in this historical setting was the plight of Native Americans as the the Civil Rights Movement unfolded in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Throughout the play, there was a lot of emphasis relating to the persistence of racism among Americans, particularly white Americans. While the issue of race was introduced in the play rather subtly, it played an incredibly important role throughout the play’s development.
In addition to seeing the personal tragedies of the sisters unfold, the audience is able to see issues regarding race through the lens of these southern, white sisters. The play also touches on Aderine’s attempts to overcome her own racial biases, which is made aware to her as a result of their discoveries at the beach house. It is an important commentary on the acknowledgement of racism held by those with white privilege.
The play consisted of two acts and was delivered in one hour installments. Following the presentation, Dawkins discussed critiques raised by the audience and cast members. It was an interesting experience to view those involved in the revision process of someone else’s work, as everyone was eager to share their thoughts and concerns. Hearing her work from start to finish for the first time, Dawkins became very emotional but was receptive to suggestions to improve her piece.
There was much praise mentioned regarding Dawkins’ ability to craft witty and heart-breaking dialogue, as well as a call for greater historical context. It was a critique that resonated with me as well, as I felt at times as though the heavier material of the play got lost within the the banter between the two sisters, which encompassed a majority of the play.
Overall, listening to this presentation of Patsy Dawkins’ “The Dragonflies’ Daughters” was humbling in knowing that the creation of this play has been a process and labor in the making for many years for her. It was a unique opportunity to be involved in another person’s creative process, and if you are interested in the thespian arts, it is a great way to get involved in community theater, while also enjoying a playwright’s work for free.