THEATER | Michelle Perdue’s “The Housekeeper’s Dirt” takes on the issue of domestic violence

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Michelle Perdue’s The Housekeeper’s Dirt at the Playwrights’ Center dramatizes a not-quite savory and seldom-acknowledged aspect of black history. As with all cultures, African-Americans aren’t immune to domestic abuse. And, as with other culures, the issue gets swept under the proverbial rug, beatings happening behind closed doors and nothing being done about it. It hardly ever gets talked about.

When Ntozake Shange’s landmark triumph for colored girls have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf indicted black men for strutting around with the Stagger Lee Syndrome, all hell broke loose. That kind of issue was supposed to be kept in the community. Dirty laundry not to be aired in public. Well, you don’t change an evil that way. It has to be exposed and confronted.

Utilizing her play as a vehicle to raise awareness, Perdue writes in an e-mail, “I am extremely grateful for having the opportunity to write and produce The Housekeepers Dirt. Thanks to the Minnesota State Arts board, my vision went from a dream to a reality. Therefore, it means a great deal to me to continue this journey of healing and bringing awareness to this sensitive topic, particularly in the African-American Community. My goal is to be an active participant in decreasing the number of occurrences of domestic violence so that no one will experience the things that I was exposed to.”

Reflecting on the process that brought the script from idea to fruition, she goes on to add, “I was able to draw on my own experiences as well as those of others who have been affected by domestic violence. It was important for me to look beyond the scope of my experiences to truly get an understanding of the psych of a victim as well as the abuser. I want my audience to understand that as human beings we are very complex, but at the same time resilient. Therefore, it was necessary for my characters to take on those qualities to gain a better understanding of their motivations and perspectives. I believe that no one is all good or all bad and the more we can accept and embrace this notion the easier it will become in understanding the victims decision to stay with the abuser as well as the abusers need to abuse.”

A theatrical experience cannot be simply about an issue, no matter how important that issue may be. You still must engage, entertain and otherwise have a performance. Toward this end, Perdue, who acts in the play, had the benefit of working with veteran director Kim Hines. “As an actress and writer,” she writes, “I have truly been blessed to work with Kim Hines. She has been an inspiration and motivating force throughout my writing process. She has shown me that with hard work and maintaining a commitment to my craft, anything is possible. Her strength as a woman has made me a stronger human being, her vision as a director has made my character richer and full of life, and her experience as an actress has at times reminded of the obligation that I have as an artist to live truthful under imaginary circumstances.”

Michelle Perdue is joined in the cast by area performance ace K Jay (Kelechi Jaavaid), who makes a segue from standup comedy and spoken-word performances to acting. “Working with K Jay,” writes Perdue, “has given me a new meaning for perseverance.”

Michelle Perdue’s The Housekeeper‘s Dirt runs at the Playwrights’ Center from February 17th-20th, Thursday-Saturday 8 p.m. and Sunday, 2 p.m. Phone: 612-332-7481.