The Spectrum


Playhouse Stages Multicultural Productions to Help Diversify the Arts

By Alefiya Presswala

When the Dragonfly Multicultural Arts Center reopened in June, after being closed for 15 months during the COVID-19 pandemic, “Tenali Raman: Folk Tales From India” was the first play it staged.

Having an all-Indian cast for the reopening reflected the center’s mission of ensuring diversity in the performances it stages at a time when Broadway and local theaters are being cited for casting too few actors and other professionals who are of color or women.

“We would go to community theaters and constantly see all-white casts in towns that were not all-white, and frankly, it was boring,” said Catherine LaMoreaux, who co-founded Dragonfly with her daughter, Anna Paone, in 2014. “We wanted to create more opportunities for actors of color and female directors and other types of people who may not typically have a principal part in theater. ”

The Plainfield, N.J., performance center landed in its current home at the duCret School of Art after what Paone called “an infamous incident in Dragonfly history.”

“Before we were at duCret, we had devised this play called ‘Black and Blue,’” said Paone, of the story of two men.  “The white man becomes a police officer, and the black man is just a sort of average dude who ends up getting shot by the police officer … We performed once in a church, but the local Police Benevolent Association got wind of the show. They were pretty mad about it … Essentially, we were kicked out.”

She said she can only assume that the police union, whose members had posted negative comments about the show on Facebook, had enough influence to have the theater company booted. 

“It was sort of in the back of our minds that [the play] may be controversial,” LaMoreaux said. “But our white privilege, I guess, made us really unaware or unattuned to what could happen.”

After searching for 10 months, the mother-daughter duo spotted duCret on Craigslist. “Finding duCret was, like, a miracle.” LaMoreaux said.

The duo chose the name Dragonfly as a tribute to relatives who died tragically. “My nephew Cristoffer, along with my mother and sister, died in a car crash when he was ten,” LaMoreaux said. “My other sister kept seeing dragonflies when she visited Cristoffer’s grave. Also, dragonflies have iridescent wings with different colors, which to me, symbolizes multiculturalism. Cristoffer himself was biracial.”

After putting up plays over Zoom, the two women were relieved to be able to start rehearsing in person again. That June 18 performance with the South Asian cast was performed on the front porch of duCret’s yellow brick building.

“With such a talented cast and crew to work with, I knew that we would enjoy performing. Performing outdoors also brought around a certain relaxed atmosphere,” said Anil Joseph, who played the lead role in “Tenali Raman.”

Upcoming plays at Dragonfly also reflect the co-founders mission: “Having Our Say,” which opens on Aug. 13, follows the real-life civil rights pioneers of Sadie and Bessie Delany, who were sisters from Harlem. Opening on Aug. 27 is “Popcorn Falls,” which tells the fictional story of a town that must open a theater to save itself from bankruptcy. “Gormenghast,” a British fantasy, will open on Halloween weekend. And “India Pale Ale,” which follows an Indian family living in Wisconsin, opens later in the year.

“I’m really proud of the work we’re doing,” New York City resident Paone said “You know, there are some days where I’m so tired and I don’t want to drive to Jersey for rehearsal. And, then, I get here, and it’s such a relief. I love it.”