OnyxFest: Houseless, not Homeless

This play is part of OnyxFest 2022, a production of Africana Repertory Theatre of IUPUI (ARTI) and IndyFringe, “Indy’s First and Only Theater Festival Dedicated to the Stories of Black Playwrights.” Initial performances were the weekend of Nov. 3-6 at the Basile Theatre in the IndyFringe building. The second weekend of performances are Thursday through Saturday, Nov. 10-12, at the IUPUI Campus Center Theater, 420 University Boulevard, Indianapolis. Recordings of performances will be available at ButlerArtsCenter.org. For more information, see OnyxFest.com.

By John Lyle Belden

There are hundreds of homeless people around the city, and in “Houseless, Not Homeless,” by Michael Florence, there are about as many stories of how each man, woman and child ended up that way. 

Matt (Dominique Hawkins) has a home and a job, but during his lunch hour at an inner-city park, he can’t help but notice those who don’t. He wonders why, and what he can do to help. So he approaches individuals who pique his interest (or maybe just bumps into) and in exchange for gift cards to a local restaurant, he gets their stories.

Matt meets Lonnie (George Gooding), a former Union plumber; Rita (Ronnie Watts), a young mother of two; Marine SSG Jackson (Quinton Hayden), an Afghanistan veteran with “emotional issues;” Pauline (Jetta Vaughn), a retired social worker who, ironically, used to work at a shelter; and John (Zach Dzuba), a former lawyer with a bipolar disorder.

Hawkins presents Matt as wide-eyed curious, and a bit naive, while the other actors play it understandably wary and suspicious before opening up to give us watching the answers we need to hear. Eric Washington directs.

Florence based this play on the real-life interviews by documentarian Mark Horvath featured on the YouTube channel “Invisible People,” now a 501(c)3 organization. We see in these portrayals how easily one can slip into losing it all, and how difficult it is to recover, even with limited resources. 

“You never know how many people are sleeping in their vehicles,” the Marine says, “until you sleep in yours.”