Lizette Malveaux didn’t love her children equally.
Ask Rezza and Emile, and they’ll tell a story of a mom who overlooked them for their older sister, GiGi. But GiGi never noticed this indiscretion in childhood and still doesn’t.
Now that Lizette has died, Rezza and Emile not only plan to enlighten their sister but get their share of mom’s estate, even if it means holding a gun to GiGi’s head. Emile eventually will resort to this act of desperation in UpStage Theatre’s premiere production of Pauletta Oliver James’ drama, “A Dove for Lizette Malveaux.”
The show, which opens Friday, Oct. 2, is the winner of UpStage’s sixth annual Emerging Playwright Project.
“Pauletta is the second playwright from California who has won our competition,” says Ava Brewster Turner, the company’s founder and artistic director. “But you can tell from the title of the play that she has Louisiana roots.”
James will attend opening night, but she talked by phone with the three-member cast during rehearsals.
“She told us how all of the characters were people that she knew or pieces of the people that she knew,” says Krystal Blatcher, who plays Rezza. “It made a big difference, because when we went into rehearsal afterward, we all became lost in our characters. That’s when an actor does great acting.”
James also said she interjected pieces of herself into the characters, particularly that of GiGi, played by Candice Savoy.
“GiGi wants to protect her family and the relationship with her brother and sister,” Savoy says.
“But Emile and Rezza feel that GiGi had a better lifestyle when the three of them were growing up,” adds Anthony Moses, who plays Emile.
There are reasons for the sibling rivalry, all of which are uncovered in the many layers of James’ story. The audience meets Lizette only through her children’s memories as the play opens with her death.
GiGi, Rezza and Emile gather to plan the funeral, a time usually set aside for grief and reverence. Their reunion is the opposite.
“Rezza and Emile believe that Lizette left GiGi all of her insurance money, and they want their part,” Turner says.
The secrets are revealed as the story unfolds. It seems a young Lizette attempted to leave her husband’s domestic abuse early in marriage, escaping on a train to her family in New Orleans. She was a Creole beauty with green eyes, which captivated a handsome stranger on the trip.
The two had an affair, which produced GiGi. Lizette eventually returned to her husband and gave birth to Rezza and Emile, whose perception of their mother’s preference for their older sister is real.
Rezza embarked upon a life of “trying to find love” in all the wrong places as a result of it, giving birth to her first child at age 14. Emile chose a different path of bettering himself through college degrees, business and money. But even money isn’t a permanent mask for pain.
“When I first read this play, I couldn’t believe how involved it was,” Turner says. “Just when I’d think I thought something was resolved, it would lead to something else, and I really didn’t know how to write a synopsis for it. It’s family secrets. It’s sibling rivalry. It’s comedy. It’s drama and it’s mystery.”
There’s significance to the dove in the title, but this secret will be revealed only after the siblings work out their problems along this Southern Gothic path that also brings up discussion of other family members and past incidents.
“You would think that this wouldn’t happen at funerals in the South,” Turner says.
Then again, all families are different, harboring their own secrets, which always makes good stories.