IRT presents R. Eric Thomas’ new play

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Pamela Harrison (Olivia D. Dawson), Maureen Littlefield (Tracey Michelle Arnold), Brandon Littlefield (Garrett Young) and Vernon Harrison (Sean Blake) in the IRT's 2024 production of “The Folks at Home.” (Photo/Zach Rosing)
Pamela Harrison (Olivia D. Dawson), Maureen Littlefield (Tracey Michelle Arnold), Brandon Littlefield (Garrett Young) and Vernon Harrison (Sean Blake) in the IRT's 2024 production of “The Folks at Home.” (Photo/Zach Rosing)

“The Folks at Home,” a new sitcom-style play by R. Eric Thomas, explores themes of family and relationships through comedy.

Making its Indianapolis debut, the modern family comedy play takes the stage of IRT during the theater’s 51st season, marking the second time the play has been produced since its conception. “The Folks at Home” is playing on the OneAmerica Mainstage Feb. 20-March 16.

“It kind of asks the question like, ‘How do we all live together?’” Thomas said. “It is a play that is exploring that with laughter but doesn’t shy away from the inherent conflict that can come from having in-laws or any group of people living together, but particularly people who might see themselves as quite different on the surface.”

An homage to Norman Lear sitcoms of the 1970s and 80s, Thomas said “The Folks at Home” blends the feel of classic stage comedians with social issues, humor and heart of contemporary time. The story follows Roger (Keith Illidge) and Brandon (Garrett Young), an interracial married couple living in South Baltimore. After falling on hard times financially, both sets of in-laws move in with them and the “boring” ghost.

The play features many themes and discussions of race, gender, sexuality and age, but the big moral of the story is how relationships are about staying in the room, Thomas said. 

Roger Harrison (Keith Illidge) and Brandon Littlefield (Garrett Young) in the IRT’s 2024 production of “The Folks at Home.” (Photo/ Zach Rosing)

“Whether it’s a married couple, or family, or, you know, people thrown together by circumstance, or … Americans in society in general, sometimes the answer — not always — but sometimes the answer is you have to stay in the space together and work out what is going awry between yourself and others,” Thomas said. “And that’s not always possible; it’s not always safe, but when you know when there is a baseline of love and a baseline of respect, miracles can happen when you say, ‘I’m not leaving until we’ve figured this out together.’”

In addition to sharing their space with both in-laws, Roger and Brandon are dealing with a supernatural presence in their home, a “boring ghost” that watches them make breakfast and brush their teeth, Thomas said. The story itself is not a ghost story and yet still serves as a paradox.

“I think of ghosts as an emotion that doesn’t have a place to go,” Thomas said. “I think of ghosts as unresolved conflict. I think of ghosts as history that is ever present but not acknowledged. … I love the idea of a boring ghost, but I also love the idea that we’re, you know, we’re all future ghosts, and so, like, what impact are we making while we’re here and what of us will linger?”

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Olivia D. Dawson, an Illinois-based actor playing the role of Pamela Harrison, said her love for new plays is what initially drew her to “The Folks at Home,” but said the show speaks a lot to what is going on in the world economically. Where most young adults end up moving back in with their parents when things get tough, this play features the opposite — which is not necessarily a bad thing.

Dawson’s Character is the backbone of the family. She loves and supports her son and her husband, and when things happen, it is not easy for her to ask for help, but she does the work and gets it done, Dawson said.

Specifically in the play, there is tension between Pamela and Maureen (Tracey Michelle Arnold), with microaggressions happening until boiling over and resulting in a conversation between the two women.

“Right now in our society, people talk at each other. They don’t really talk to each other,” Dawson said. “So, I really liked that scene, in that we have a chance to just talk and communicate, and see the humanity in each other, and just realize that, you know, everybody has some kind of pain.”

Of course, there are more conversations to be had after a production like “The Folks at Home,” Thomas said, including discussions about what the American dream actually looks like and the way most people’s lives are set up to either help them or keep them from achieving that. 

However, “The Folks at Home” is for anyone who has ever watched and loved TV, Thomas said. It is for anyone interested in “that warm feeling of familiarity and belonging” they get from watching their favorite show or play. Because despite how closely inspired by sitcoms the show is, Thomas said “The Folks at Home” is meant to be onstage; it is meant to inspire and spread joy to audience members.

“It is a comedy, so I hope that they laugh. I think everybody needs that right now. I mean, we are still post-COVID or, as we call it, the great intermission, and we are still trying to recover from that,” Dawson said. “We’re having to learn how to be human with each other again, and we’re in those growing pains.”

“The Folks at Home” is onstage at the IRT through March 16. Tickets range from $25-$86. ASL-interpreted, audio-described and open-captioned performances are available on select dates. For more information, visit irtlive.com

Contact staff writer Chloe McGowan at 317-762-7848 or chloegm@indyrecorder.com. Follow her on Twitter @chloe_mcgowanxx.