Amy Lee Lavoie and Omari Newton are taking Canada by storm with their rolling World Premiere of Redbone Coonhound. Having premiered already in Vancouver, Tarragon Theatre is the next company to host this incredible production. I’m so thankful that I was able to ask some questions of this powerhouse writing couple about their work.
Was there a real-life incident or discussion which inspired this play?
Yes! We (Omari and Amy Lee) were walking on the seawall in Vancouver’s West End, where we live, and an athletic white man came around us with a beautiful dog. This dog paid special attention to Omari, sniffing him up and down. The man boasted about the qualities of the dog, remarking on its ability to run for miles without getting tired and that he was very scent-driven. When Omari asked what the breed of the dog was, the man proudly declared that he was a Redbone Coonhound with no understanding of how those words might land on a Black man. Many deep (and sometimes heated) conversations ensued about the impact of the breed name and the encounter with the man and his dog. Thus, a play was born.
With so many historical figures to choose from, why did you select these particular people for your play?
The satirical pieces, or “fever dreams” as we lovingly call them, were driven by the characters’ lived experiences and what they’re wrestling with.
The first in our play is “The Train Home” which is a direct echo of Mike’s experience doing Black History Month presentations to high schools/colleges across Canada, and the various assumptions and gaps in students’ understanding of who and what happened. It also borrows from the myriad of films that look at the harrowing experiences of enslaved persons making the journey North, and satirizes the white savior lens in which those are often told.
“Now You Try” looks at the infamous Shirley Temple and Bo Jangles staircase scene in The Little Colonel, which was a seminal childhood memory Marissa has of watching it with her Nonna. The others look at Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and Star Trek as launchpads for the ideas unearthed in the scenes exploring how the Redbone Coonhound takes a hold of, and includes, Mike and Marissa’s close friend group.
Being an interracial couple yourselves, what’s the most outrageous or shocking thing a stranger has ever said to you?
It’s not usually the outrageous things that Omari and I are shocked by. It’s the series of daily microaggressions and the insidiousness of language that have the most sustained impact on us.
One of the most common examples of this is the desire people express for us to have children because they “just want to see what they end up looking like”. This of course crosses more than racial lines. It encroaches on boundaries concerning private, personal decisions, forcing us to either dodge or explain our choice to, at this time, not have children. So it’s two-fold.
Do you have a favourite moment or scene from the play?
We don’t have a favourite moment or scene…we’re partial to all of them.
This may be a cheesy answer…our favourite moment(s) have been the opportunity to write the play together.
Was there a cathartic moment for you in writing this piece? Particularly regarding your hopes for our future?
We seek relief in our daily lives through humour, so catharsis in writing this play occurred in our ability to laugh through it, which we hope becomes a shared experience with the audience.
We express hope in this play through the active work the characters in the throughline do to try and understand each other, however uncomfortable (and potentially relationship-ending) those conversations may be.
Redbone Coonhound is currently in previews with Opening Night coming up this week! I’m so excited to get to see this play; I have a feeling this will be another one that I’ll be talking and thinking about long after I’ve exited the theatre. For more information and tickets, visit: Redbone Coonhound – Tarragon Theatre