Over the past 15 years or so, Brooke Berman has built a reputation as one of the funniest and most emotionally honest playwrights of her generation. Her often autobiographical work includes “Hunting and Gathering,” which received a celebrated production at Primary Stages in 2008, as well as “Smashing,” “Until We Find Each Other,” and “The Triple Happiness.” It examines the struggles and compromises of women grappling with uncertainty, instability and the weight of their expectations for themselves and their world.
Berman is the wife of my friend and Forward contributor Gordon Haber, and when I first met her, she struck me at the time as a successful version of the spiritually-minded, artistic type of person — airy and abstract and very into yoga — that I’d become familiar with in the New York theater scene over the years. Since then I’ve realized that she’s much tougher. Her faith is grounded in hard experience (chronicled in her memoir, “No Place Like Home”) and it’s allowed her to handle things that would crush a lesser person with compassion, wisdom and enduring hope. I asked her to join me for a drink to discuss “1300 Lafayette East,” the new play she opened in Detroit, among other topics.
Joshua Furst: What are you drinking?
Brooke Berman: I’m drinking a Nero D’Avola. I like a big red. And the place is called Caffé é Vino, so you have to order vino.
You just got back from Detroit.
I did. I opened a play in Detroit and it’s a crazy, crazy thing. It’s a collaboration between the local Jewish theater, JET, and the local African-American theater, Plowshares. And much to my dismay, they have two different audiences so the play is actually going to run for a month at the JCC in the suburbs where JET’s theater is and all the suburban Jews go — I don’t say that in a pejorative way, I’m from there so they’re actually my people — and then it’s going to run for a month downtown. What I said to the director is I wish I could sit and have the experiences of both of those audiences together experiencing the play. That’s what the play’s meant to be. It’s an amazing thing to me that a play about a black woman and a Jewish woman in Detroit in the 1960s is being done by a black company and a Jewish company in Detroit. And theatergoers are by and large as you know over the age of 50, so all the members of the audience remember the summer of 1967, which is when the play takes place.
During the riots?
That’s right. The play is set just before and after the riots. My mother and father lived in this apartment building downtown, 1300 Lafayette East, and the way my mother told the story, her neighbors were the Supremes and the Temptations. So there was a Motown presence in that building and one of the interesting things about Detroit was they had a viable black middle class for a really long time. It’s an amazing melting pot of a city —
Was… was an amazing melting pot.
Was. Maybe it will be again.
Once all the writers move there for the free housing.
Sure. If they really do that. Do you think they’re really going to do that?
I’ve heard there are only three houses.
Right. I’m cynical and I feel like there’s something a little disingenuous about when people like David Byrne tell the young generation to move to Detroit.