By Carol Yost
I’d had an idea for this play since the 1970s, but it was hardly like the play I wound up writings. Still, it was inspired by what I saw when I was a secretary for tenants’ lawyers. It is my first finished play.
A few months ago, during the Covid lockdown, I began Beauty at last. The hardest part was learning play format in Microsoft Word; I was greatly helped by Suzanne S. Barnhill, whom I met online through the Microsoft Community.
I started at the beginning and described the office of Louis Israel, a New York City tenants’ lawyer. This setting was to be used throughout the play until the very last scene, which is in front of his office building. A young woman who comes to see Israel is suffering great anxiety because the charity that runs her ladies’ rooming house wants to get all the tenants out. She’s a very dark-skinned Haitian immigrant who works as an office cleaner on Louis’ floor. The first questions were: how does she feel and how will she show this? She is a devout Roman Catholic; he is White, of Jewish heritage but an atheist. As he proceeds to represent her and the 10 other ladies affected by the threatened eviction, she will get him to question his attitude toward religion, and he will embrace his family’s religion, Judaism, while she remains Catholic. They will fall in love.
I think the main requirement for a playwright is to be deeply engaged in the subject. Since I am not from Haiti, I found out as much about the country as I could. The office cleaner experienced tragedy in her life because of the turmoil in Haiti. I also had to learn about law as it pertains to what a lawyer does. I am grateful to David Siffert and Yetta Kurland, two lawyers who advised me. Throughout, I wanted to write natural dialogue displaying humor and deep feeling. Many issues are addressed, including religion, immigration law, housing rights and racism.
Israel says to her, in gratitude:
“Never before have I heard ‘dear, sweet attorney,’ and said so tenderly, like a term of endearment. We lawyers can be anything. Sometimes we’ve been heroes, and people have imagined us to have special powers, wearing capes and whatnot. We get inspired, we have golden tones, we sympathize, sustain, sometimes we cry, we bring down the walls of Jericho, we fight for justice and sometimes we win. We’re philosophers, too; we share our wisdom. We’re storytellers as well. But some lawyers have been nothing but hired guns, glorifying the worst examples of humanity. Rhetoric with hand on the heart has been employed for filth. ‘Dear, sweet attorney.’ I want to live up to that. Please help me.”
As the play proceeds, the two characters are suddenly confronted with a new difficulty and must act immediately. There are great risks for both of them.