In Johnny G. Lloyd’s new play Patience, a young black queer man grapples with the pressures of black excellence, building a life with his fiance, and maintaining his status as the world’s #1 ranked Solitaire player. Despite having a busy weekend closing out the Corkscrew Theater Festival, Johnny took the time to answer a few questions about the show and the challenges of making a solo card game compelling on stage.
What is Patience about, and why did you feel compelled to tell this particular story?
Patience is about a solitaire player, Daniel, who is ranked #1 but feels himself reaching the twilight of his career. He’s unsure exactly what to do about that – much like he’s uncertain how to engage with his fiancé or his mom-ager, and over the course of the play we witness the lingering effects of his inaction.
For me, writing this play came from a place of wanting to explore why I know so many truly excellent people of color who seemed to be completely stymied but what to actually do with their lives. I’ve certainly felt that way at times – the “better than the best” mentality can open up a lot of doors, but racism can still close them just as quickly, and I think knowing that makes it difficult to make long term commitments. I wanted to find a way to explore that decision process theatrically.
To be honest, I didn’t know that competitive solitaire was a thing. How did you first get interested in this card subculture, and what about the sport lends itself to engaging storytelling?
It isn’t! Or rather, it isn’t the way it’s portrayed in the play. In real life, solitaire, when it is played competitively, is more of a computer game – who can click the fastest on a digital simulation. But I was really interested in what it would mean to take theater, a form which necessitates an interaction taking place, and give it the structure of a solitaire – a card game played alone, where you never know if something big is about to happen or if the game is, in fact, unsolvable.
Even as mainstream theater has embraced some LGBTQ stories, plays about black queer people are seen more off-Broadway than on New York’s bigger stages. It’s really unacceptable in a community that lauds itself as inclusive, but often white liberal theatergoers fall short in truly supporting black and queer artists and their work. What would you say to theatergoers who want to be better allies in supporting the cross-section of black and queer theater?
I think the biggest thing is to continue to be vigilant when it comes to the tendency to lump a lot of work by black queer artists together. Michael R. Jackson discussed this when he was talking about the reaction to A Strange Loop – there’s a tendency by the “theater establishment” to treat optics as art. And when that happens, it allows for a diminishing of the work, because producers and taste-makers can say “we have a play like this” without actually deciphering what they mean by that. I think being honest about what work speaks to you and what work doesn’t, and seeking out work by black artists and queer artists and trans artists that seems as though it speaks to you, I see the way to bring more work to the front. Because the work is out there – it’s just a matter of being open to finding it.
In the show, Daniel is referred to as “the Venus Williams of solitaire.” What do Venus and Serena Williams mean to you as athletes, celebrities, and role models, and could you speak to the pressures of “black excellence” placed on them by the media and powers-that-be in tennis?
I grew up during Venus’ original winning streak, and my dad was extremely into tennis so I watched them play constantly growing up. And what I was always fascinated by was how people constantly wanted to say that one was deeply superior to the other, as though that superiority was innate or that it was some kind of inevitability. When I was growing up, Venus was the golden child and Serena wasn’t “controlled” enough, which was clearly coded language. And then later, Serena was the ‘it’ star and Venus was checked out, which always seemed to me to be a way of saying lazy or un-driven. And this happened when they were number 1 and 2 in the world! So I spent a lot of time wondering why we had to constantly tear one of them down and pretend like they were awful instead of raising both of them up, or respectfully rooting for the player whose style spoke to us the most. And I see this a lot when looking at how we consume the bodies of women and people of color – how we constantly compare and destroy instead of acknowledge and uplift.
What was the first stage play you remember seeing, and what drew you to theater as opposed to other storytelling mediums, like film or literature?
The first thing I remember seeing on stage was some sort of live Sesame Street extravaganza. I remember almost nothing about the experience other than that I felt extremely bonded to some of the characters – even more so than I did just watching the television show. I think my interest in theatre stems somewhat from that – film and television can bring you into a fully realized physical world, and literature is such an imaginative exercise, but theater is a person to person experience, and I think as humans we crave that kind of interaction.
For more of Johnny’s past work and upcoming projects, check out his website at https://jglloyd.weebly.com/.