Patrick Gabridge was assembling IKEA furniture with his son when he had the idea for his latest play, Chore Monkeys. Living in Boston, Gabridge uses the company Task Rabbit, which is, as he describes it, “an uber for your chores.” He thought about what it would be like for his son to create a profile on the site, offering his services as a handyman.
“I’m interested in how this gig economy is working,” says Gabridge. “How do we now relate to each other where we’re in each other’s cars and houses — what does that all mean?” And beyond just relating to others in general, Gabridge is especially interested in how we relate to people of a different race. “My children are both African American,” says Gabridge, who is white. “The premise of this play is, ‘What would it take for my son? Would he be able to get in the door?’ I thought, ‘Oh maybe, what if he needed to enlist help from some white friend to get him in the door?'”
Thus, Chore Monkeys was born. The 85 minute play features six actors, including the aforementioned roles of African-American handyman and white cohort. Directed by Joy Vandervort-Cobb, Chore Monkeys features College of Charleston students tasked with portraying some pretty unsavory roles, like that of Frances, a “white woman, 30s. Uncomfortable having strange men in her home, especially strange black men.”
Sabrina D’Andrea, a CofC sophomore and theater performance major, plays Frances, a woman she describes as the play’s “most controversial character.” “She has a lot of subtle racially biased things that she does,” says D’Andrea. It’s this subtle racism, the quick, surprised glance when a black handyman shows up at the door, that Gabridge wants to explore in Chore Monkeys.
“After I’d written this play we started seeing articles about AirBnB people discriminating based on people’s profiles and their pictures,” says Gabridge. “The thing that I’d pictured in my head, it turned out to be a very real thing. The play deals a lot with privilege and race relations and also the relationship between men and women.”
The play’s only actor of color, senior and theater for youth major, Javaron Conyers, plays Chore Monkeys‘ Dante Williams. “I was interested in the play because it’s a world premiere,” says Conyers. “And also because of the message behind it.” In the play’s character description, Dante Wiliams is “A black man, 20s. Extremely handy — can put together IKEA furniture in a flash. Wants to be independent and stay independent. Has a learning disability that makes reading very difficult. Always hungry. Very much does not want to be arrested.”
Conyers admits to being a little confused when he found out that Chore Monkeys‘ playwright was white. “I didn’t think he’d be able to get the voice of a black character,” says Conyers. “I was finding it difficult to believe that he experienced this. But, he has a son who is black, so he was going through his son and kind of what his son faces every single day.”
“I write about race a fair bit,” says Gabridge. “And not always in direct ways, but I’m interested in multiracial casts. I’m interested in portraying a world that’s not all white — that’s not the world we live in and that’s not the world I live in.”
And what about the world Conyers lives in — the one outside CofC’s theater program? “The play kind of personifies microaggressions,” says Conyers. So the stuff he deals with every day, isn’t as extreme, as say, a woman filming a handyman in her home — but it certainly still exists. “In my everyday life, I walk down the street and pass people’s cars and they lock the door if they see me coming. Or they’ll say ‘I didn’t expect you to talk like that,’ or ‘I didn’t expect you to dress like that.’ They’re all examples of microaggresion because people expect me to act or talk a certain way.”
Chore Monkeys lays bare the microaggressions of everyday people, showing how deeply painful and problematic their biases can be. The play doesn’t necessarily conclude with all of its ends tied up neatly — how could it? Williams, at the end, is exhausted, fed up, really, with this life he leads, but that doesn’t keep him from doing his job, “I’ll put this shit together for whoever is willing to let me in the door. Turns out there are more of them than I expected, even if some of them are assholes.”
Chore Monkeys begs the question — will we one day, finally, live in a world where a black man doesn’t have to worry about needing a white man to get him through the door? The play doesn’t offer all the answers, but it does offer just what Gabridge hopes to give audiences. “I’m a white guy, I’m not going to try to write about the black experience,” says Gabridge. “I’m trying to find places on stage where my family members can see themselves reflected.”