The Trinity River Plays

Jar Fly – Rain – Ghoststroythe trinity river plays

By Regina Taylor

Directed by Ethan McSweeny

At the Goodman Theatre

Marathon look into the family life of Black middle class in Dallas

Running 3 hours and 15 minutes, Regina Taylor’s The Trinity River Plays is an ambitious family sage built around three cycles in Iris’ (Karen Aldridge) life.  Set in Dallas (fine set design by Todd Rosenthal) in 1978, we meet 17 year old Iris,’ a nerdy shy  introvert who’d rather write about cicadas (Jar Fly) than chase boys.

the trinity river plays

In the first play, Jar Fly, Iris’ 17th birthday is celebrated with her mother who is away earning money for Iris’ college education. Aunt Daisy (Jacqueline Williams) and her pervert husband Ray Earl (Jefferson A. Russell) run the household for Mother Rose.  Iris is focused on college and being a writer while her rebellious  cousin Jasmine (Christiana Clark) has dropped out of high school in pursuit of booze and drugs.  When Jasmine draws Iris into a terrible secret through whiskey drinking, a crossroads is established that will affect Iris for years.

the trinity river plays

In the second play – Rain – it is 17 years later and Iris returns from New York to celebrate her mother Rose’s (Penny Johnson Jerald) birthday.  By now, Iris is a fiercely independent and successful journalist. In search of solace, Iris returns to her mother’s house that is a sanctuary.  She tells her mother about how her 3 year marriage has ended. We see Iris and Rose rekindling their bond – with some help from the outspoken and funny Aunt Daisy (Jacqueline Williams offers a winning performance.  When Rose tells Iris about her physical condition, a role reversal of solace ensues. As a long-buried family secrets  come to life, Iris must face her past and make some difficult decisions about her future.

In Ghoststory, Frank (Jefferson A. Russell) makes a surprise visit to Dallas.  He wants Iris back.  But Iris must reconcile with the daemons of her past before she can move on with her life.  She sees and talks with the ghost of Rose when she works in the garden.

the trinity river plays

Taken as a whole, The Trinity River Plays unfold as three quite different works with inconsistent tones and moods. They play in part like a Lifeline TV series with loads of humor and periods of pathos and angst. Jar Fly needs early cuts and a tighter through line.  Act two’s Rain is the most powerful and tightly drawn play.  Ghoststory is filled with a cliche-ridden macho competition between Jack and Frank. I’d cut that entire scene.

the trinity river plays

Among the fine performances are Jacqueline Williams, Penny Johnson Jerald and, of course, Kaern Aldridge. Christina Clark is terrific as the sassy Jasmine.

With  cuts and a new razor-sharp focus, The Trinity River Plays could really be a moving theatrical experience. Taylor’s work has loads of charm, several lovable characters and a empathetic lead.  Too bad the three plays don’t weave into one another to form a larger whole.  Having the action in the past diminishes its power and reliance.  Yet there is much to like here. Audiences enjoy a family saga with loads of heart as found here. This may be a work that audiences will like more that reviewers.

Somewhat Recommended

Tom Williams

At the Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn, Chicago, IL, call 312- 443- 3800, www.goodmantheatre.org, Tuesdays thru Thursdays at 7:30, Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 2 & 8 pm, Sundays at 2 & 7:30 pm, matinees on Thursdays at 2 pm, running time is 3 hours, 15 minutes with 2 intermissions, through February 20, 2011