On March 113 2020, THE PEOPLE DOWNSTAIRS was scheduled to open a 4-week run at American Stage Theatre in St. Petersburg, FL. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, four hours before the planned opening night, the run was postponed indefinitely. After 18 long months of pain, growth, and change in the world, the show finally saw its World Premiere, September 17 - October 4, 2021.
WINNER OF THE 2020 AWARD FOR
BEST NEW SCRIPT OF THE DECADE
Set in a hoarder’s nest in the Black Rock neighborhood of Buffalo NY, Miles, an aging funeral home custodian with a taste for whiskey and a taste for laughter, lives with his daughter Mabel, a middle-aged agoraphobic who spends her days writing letters to prison inmates. When a court-appointed guardian threatens to take away their home, their rights, and their stolen poodle, Miles takes action and sets out to find a ‘good guy’ for Mabel. Enter Todd, an inept mortician who lives with his mother and pet hamster Stanley Kowalski. It is a father’s fierce determination not to accept his daughter’s fate that ignites an endearing human comedy about love, loss, loneliness, and the healing power of laughter.
"This is the stuff of soul-crushing drama à la Eugene O’Neill—except Natalie Symons’ THE PEOPLE DOWNSTAIRS is an uproarious, endearing laugh-a-minute dark comedy. ... Symons has still not been discovered by Broadway, but American Stage has given her a world premiere production worthy of the 'Great White Way.'" ...as much as this haunting play channels the power of love and kindness, it’s keeping a sense of humor that helps get us and the characters through."
John Palmer Claridge - Creative Loafing Tampa
"THE PEOPLE DOWNSTAIRS is [Symons'] richest work yet. ... I was knocked out by this play, partly because it hits me on a very personal level, but also because it stands beside LARK EDEN for excellence. I think it deserves to have most of its success on the regional theater circuit.
William S. Oser - Talkin' Broadway
"I saw THE PEOPLE DOWNSTAIRS last night, and all I have to say is...Natalie Symons has done it again. Actually, she has more than done it again; she has exceeded herself. I always thought THE BUFFALO KINGS was ripe for the national mainstream, and now I'm sure THE PEOPLE DOWNSTAIRS is. (If not, there is no justice in this world.)
You need to experience the story, the snappy dialogue, and best of all, those Natalie Symons characters that are so fully dimensional, so eccentric yet so real. Symons inevitably gets comparisons to Tracy Letts, Neil Simon, and Beth Henley, with a smidge or two (or three) of Flannery O'Connor-style quirkiness thrown in for good measure, but that's not always fair. Ms. Symons is a true original, with her own voice and her own warped view of the world. Yes, you're going to get people with emotional deficits or physical ailments or deformities, but you're also going to get so much heart and soul.
Make no mistake, this is Ms. Symons' masterpiece.
Natalie Symons has a winner here. She just needs to break through to the national level, and THE PEOPLE DOWNSTAIRS should be the play that does it. It has everything you want in a show: Laughter, tears, bizarre stories, memorable characters, and even a dog on the loose. I've been cheerleading Ms. Symons' work for several years now, and the world needs to see what we here in the Bay Area already know. She's the real deal, a true original, a writer with a vision, an artist who isn't afraid to go for broke, a quirky comedian who has a surprising dark world view mixed with so much heart. She's got it all, and her time is now."
Peter Nason - BroadwayWorld
Author's Note from THE PEOPLE DOWNSTAIRS
September 15, 2021
A year-and-a-half ago, hours before The People Downstairs was set for its world premiere, a global pandemic forced American Stage to shutter. Our former director of production, Jerid Fox, placed a ghost light on Scott Cooper’s magnificent set and we—the cast and creative team—gathered to watch the stage lights fade as that single, bare bulb flickered on.
Over the last eighteen months, as ghost lights guarded darkened theatres across the globe, I, like you, have watched and, more accurately, felt the world around me collapse in sickness, grief, and fear. I’ve also felt humanity harden with hate and—the thing that scares me the most—the condemnation of our fellow humans.
The People Downstairs, set in my hometown of Buffalo, is about how so many of us struggle in some way to hold on to a sense of home when it slips away from us. It’s about benevolence and the need to rescue our children—no matter how old they are—from pain. It’s about finding an unexpected family as we try to hold on to the past. And, as my fellow Buffalonians would attest, it’s about the undeniable healing power of laughter. Because, let me tell you folks, in Buffalo we laugh, loudly and often. My dad says it’s the hard cold winters that make us so hearty with laughter.
The People Downstairs is, quite simply, a play about love, laughter, and kindness. Yet somehow, back in early 2020, I felt like that wasn’t enough. Surely, I had more to say with this story than be kind and laugh, which frankly sounds like something I learned on the first day of Montessori school. So, I turned to our director, Chris Crawford, hoping he could unpack the play and discover that it was about something deeper, craftier, cleverer. What Chris found was it’s a story about wanting to be seen. Ah-ha! Now that’s more like it! The need to be seen is far more profound than be kind and laugh.
In fact, the need to be seen might not only be profound, but I also believe it’s one of the biggest collective challenges we face; especially now, with social media giving us a distorted lens through which to see one another. So, the big question is, how can we see one another? Is it even possible? I don’t have the answer. But now, after living (and overeating) my way through the pandemic, the anger, and the civil unrest that has plagued this nation, I no longer shrug off be kind and laugh as a simple tenet. I’m now proud to say that I wrote a play about LOVE, KINDNESS, and LAUGHTER! Because perhaps those three words are how we can at least try to see one another.
Oscar Wilde said, “I regard the theatre as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being.”
There is no denying that we’re living in an age of outrage, and I’m certainly not suggesting that theatre will cure all that ails us, but I do think that it can and will give us a space to heal, to laugh, to cry, and hopefully to “share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being.” In other words, to see one another.
So as ghost lights dim, replaced by rising stage lights in theatres from Broadway to Buffalo to St. Petersburg and around the world, I welcome you back to American Stage. And I wish you all much love, kindness, and laughter.
Author / Playwright