THE TRANSATLANTIC MAGAZINE
Sign up to The American magazine's newsletters (below) to receive more regular news, articles and updates on America in the UK.
Meghan Kennedy Interview
The Seattleite’s play, Napoli, Brooklyn is orbiting Britain for its European Premiere. We spoke to Meghan about the play, her inspirations and her work
Buy Tickets to the UK Tour of Napoli, Brooklyn (May 1 to July 13, 2019)
Our traditional opening question, where in the States are you from?
I was born in Seattle, Washington but I grew up on the east coast in New York and Connecticut.
Your play, Napoli, Brooklyn is making its European Premiere. Can you tell us about the story?
This is a story about people who are in need of a miracle. In particular, a family of immigrants in Brooklyn 1960, fighting to survive and to understand each other in the midst of the rapidly changing culture surrounding them. The only thing they can hold onto in the oppression of their daily lives is their faith. But that faith is challenged when a tragedy strikes their neighbourhood. A moment of chaos from the outside world unlocks their innermost desires, transforming their faith in God to faith in each other and in themselves.
What was your inspiration for developing this play, and what did you want to convey through the play?
Napoli, Brooklyn is loosely based on my mother’s adolescence. She grew up in a big, Italian Catholic, immigrant family. I grew up hearing stories about the plane crash in December of 1960, which happened close to her apartment, and that image always stayed with me - a girl witnessing a giant plane crash in the middle of her small, Brooklyn neighbourhood. It’s a reminder that the impossible isn’t always so impossible.
I started from there and then built outwards. I became very interested in how the struggle in immigrant families is passed from generation to generation, particularly among girls. They had to (and still have to) fight so hard to find their voices, and even harder to keep them intact. I wanted to honor those voices ... I also wanted to give my mother a love story.
The play involves both first generation Americans as well as parental figures who were born in Italy - how do you present those relationships through the play, and is that sense of American identity important to the story?
Even though this play takes place in the past, the immigration struggle is just as real today. The American Dream is a western concept that remains elusive to every generation. I'm interested in reminding generations of Americans and even Europeans, who may no longer identify as outsiders, that their roots are tied to an ever-shifting sense of belonging. Hope is a big part of the American identity. But what happens to that identity when hope is crushed? Do we persevere or crumble? I believe from every tragedy there is a possibility to learn, to grow. We are faced with tragedies everywhere we look right now, which, strangely, hold the potential to unite us.
I've read that during its run off-Broadway, the play involved authentic cooking on stage! Is food an important aspect of the production, and will that concept be part of the London production?
In New York we aimed to fill the theatre with the smell of Luda’s cooking from the moment the audience stepped through the door. Growing up in an Italian household, food was love so I wanted to make it a visceral experience. The food will be cooked off stage in the London production but it will be served up with love.
How important was getting the music right for the play?
In researching for the play, I became obsessed with the details of the time - songs, recipes, how they decorated the tree at Christmas time. Mario Lanza was always on the record player in my grandmother’s house so getting that song right was very important. Music provides a bridge to another time and state of mind, and I hope we are able to do that with the music in this production.
How does it feel for the play to be moving to the UK and London's Park Theatre?
I’m thrilled. I’ve always deeply admired theatre in London and the UK, so moving the play is a dream come true. And everyone at the Park Theatre and The Original Theatre Company has been fantastic.
What do you hope visitors to the play take away from their experience of Napoli, Brooklyn?
I’m hoping that it’s possible to take the specifics of a very particular family’s struggle and explode them outward in a way that feels recognizable and universal. I hope when audiences discuss this play, aspects of its themes will resonate with their experiences—whether decades ago, or in confronting them now, week by week. I hope they enjoy seeing a stage full of women and I hope they leave with a bigger appetite than they walked in with.
What are your plans and projects for the future?
I’m currently writing for a new television show for Apple TV produced by J.J.Abrams & Sara Bareilles called Little Voice which I’m very excited about. I’m finishing up a new play and working on a film as well.
Finally, what's the best thing about being Meghan Kennedy?
Probably my dog, Benji.
Napoli, Brooklyn is touring the UK between May 1 and July 13, 2019. The venues include Malvern Theatre in the Cotswolds (May 1 to 4), Windsor's Theatre Royal (May 6 to 11), the Yvonne Arnaud in Guildford (May 13 to 18), the Devonshire Park Theatre in Eastbourne (May 27 to 31), the Oxford Playhouse (June 4 to 8) before a month long run at London's Park Theatre (June 13 to July 13).
Essential Weekly Reads for Overseas Americans. Free