REVIEW: The Trinity River Plays (Goodman Theatre)


A hilarious yet complicated bouquet of family and tradition


Iris (Karen Aldridge) (center couch) returns home to find nothing has changed in the past 17 years as (l to r) Daisy (Jacqueline Williams), Rose (Penny Johnson Jerald) and Jasmine (Christiana Clark) dance around the house. Photo by Eric Y. Exit

Goodman Theatre presents
The Trinity River Plays
Written by Regina Taylor
Directed by Ethan McSweeny
at Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn (map)
through Feb 20  |  tickets: $25-$78  |  more info 

Reviewed by Katy Walsh

‘You don’t start a garden by digging. You start it by dreaming.’ Goodman Theatre presents the world premiere of The Trinity River Plays. Playwright Regina Taylor has penned three one act plays: Jarfly, Rain, and Ghoststory. The compilation follows Iris Spears from happy, precocious, awkward seventeen year-old to detached, reserved, successful thirty-six year old. Iris is a budding storyteller. Rose has nurtured her daughter’s growth from bulb to bloom. Aunt Daisy tends the hothouse in her sister’s absence. Cousin Jasmine pushes a little weed to get Iris to blossom. Deflowering! Jack (Samuel Ray Gates) comes over to thank Iris (Karen Aldridge) for helping him with his schoolwork. Photo by Brandon Thibodeaux.Iris pulls up her roots and transplants away from her family. Fifteen years later, a return home digs up buried secrets and withering relationships. The Trinity River Plays is a complicated and hilarious bouquet of family drama.

The playwright has picked distinct, rich characters for a colorful arrangement. Taylor’s dialogue is organic and natural. Under the direction of Ethan McSweeny, this talented cast IS family. The relations are the familiar and unexplainable ties that bind and sometimes suffocate. In the lead, Karen Aldridge (Iris) engages as a lovable geek. In Jarfly, Aldridge’s ability to connect as a confident, cock-eyed optimist makes her later severed linkage to home and self that much more tragic. At the end of Jarfly and Rain, Aldridge’s movements haunt with raw emotion. Bringing continuous comedy relief, Christiana Clark (Cousin Jasmine) is a delicious combination of grandiosity and audacity. Aided visually by Valerie Gladstone (wig and hair design) and Karen Perry (costume design), Clark is a hot mess! Bringing more humor, Jacqueline Williams (Aunt Daisy) cackles with the wise musings of a woman on psychotropic medication. Williams delivers one liners to sassy perfection. Not appearing until the second play, Penny Johnson Jerald (Iris’s mother Rose) gives a complex portrayal as estranged mother, loving sister and enabling aunt.

Jerald stays indifferent to Aldridge making the mom-daughter alienation difficult to understand. Without spoiling a plot point, a story shift helps Jerald to showcase a softer and playful side.

Daisy (Jacqueline Williams) tries to understand her niece while coping with her sister's illness. Photo by Eric Y. Exit. Jasmine (Christiana Clark) dreams of moving to New York City and becoming a famous dancer/choreographer.
Frank (Jefferson A. Russell) makes a surprise visit to see Iris at her Texas home. Photo by Eric Y. Exit. Karen Aldridge and Penny Johnson Jerald - Goodman Theatre Iris (Karen Aldridge) is reacquainted with her high school crush Frank (Samuel Ray Gates). Photo by Eric Y. Exit.

From entry into the theatre, it’s all about the garden. Scenic designer Todd Rosenthal has a 70’s ‘Brady Bunch’-like house as a backdrop. In front of it is a beautiful garden. An abundance of vibrant flowers is a delightful sight (especially during Chicago winters). And it’s real! Throughout the show, dirt is shoveled and flowers are planted. The garden is watered by hose and rain. The effect is impactful realism.

Playwright Regina Taylor has written and promoted The Trinity River Plays as three separate plays. In actuality, it’s one play about one family. Taylor’s solid family dysfunction is experienced the best possible way with a lot of laughter. Trying to keep The Trinity River Plays separate entities adds to the length and loose pacing. Scene transitions have prolonged black-outs that sometimes confuse as intermission cues. Pulling it together as “The Trinity River PLAY”  (singular!) will tighten up the action – including eliminating one of the two intermissions – allowing this work to bloom and flourish from daisies to rose bushes. I do love daisies but roses make a stronger statement.

Rating: ★★★

(l to r) Iris (Karen Aldridge) and Daisy (Jacqueline Williams) prepare dinner while Frank (Jefferson A. Russell) and Jack (Samuel Ray Gates) get acquainted in the yard. Photo by Eric Y. Exit

Trinity River Plays continues through February 20th, playing Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays at 7:30pm, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, and Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets are $25-$78.  Go to for more info.

Running Time: Three hours and fifteen minutes, which includes two intermissions.


(l to r) Jasmine (Christiana Clark) and Iris (Karen Aldridge) reminisce about their past. Photo by Brandon Thibodeaux.

Creative Team

Todd Rosenthal – Set Design
Karen Perry – Costume Design
Tyler Micoleau – Lighting Design
Steven Cahill – Sound Design and Composition 
Daryl Waters – Additional Composition


Playwright Regina TaylorPlaywright Regina Taylor  – Ms. Taylor’s most recent play, Magnolia, was part of the Goodman’s 2008/2009 season, directed by Anna D. Shapiro (Tony Award Winner for August: Osage County). Her play, The Dreams of Sarah Breedlove premiered at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival and was produced at the Goodman in June 2006 with Taylor directing. Drowning Crow, her adaptation of Chekhov’s The Seagull was produced on Broadway at Manhattan Theater Club’s Biltmore Theater. Taylor wrote the award winning Crowns, which was first produced at the McCarter Theatre and at Second Stage in New York and has gone on to become the most done musical in America; Taylor also directed the production to critical acclaim. Taylor’s other plays include Oo-Bla-Dee, which premiered at the Goodman and which won the 2000 American Theatre Critics/Steinberg New Play Award; Escape From Paradise, a one-woman show;Watermelon Rinds; Inside the Belly of the Beast; Mudtracks; Love Poem #97; and she curated Urban Zulu Mambo, an evening of plays by Adrienne Kennedy, Ntozake Shange, Suzzane Lori Parks and Kia Corthran.

Her acting credits include roles on Broadway, off-Broadway and in numerous regional theatres. Her film credits include Clockers,Losing Isaiah, Lean on Me, A Family Thing, Courage Under Fire, with Denzel Washington and The Negotiator with Samuel L. Jackson. For her role as Lilly Harper on the television series I’ll Fly Away, Taylor won an NAACP Image Award, was nominated for an Emmy Award and received the Golden Globe Award for Best Leading Dramatic Actress. She appeared as Cora in Cora Unashamedin PBS’s Masterpiece Theater American Collection. She was seen on CBS’s The Education of Max Bickford as Judith Bryant. Her additional television credits include the CBS series FEDS, Law & Order, Crisis at Central High, The Howard Beach Story, Children of the Dust with Sidney Poitier, and Strange Justice, a Showtime original film in which she portrayed Anita Hill (Peabody Award, Gracie Award). She most recently played Molly on CBS’ The Unit written and produced by David Mamet and Shawn Ryan (2008 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actress in a Drama). She received an honorary doctorate from DePaul University.


Ethan McSweeny (Director) Ethan McSweeny (Director) made his New York directing debut with the off-Broadway premiere of John Logan’s Never the Sinner(Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Awards) and, before the age of 30, directed the Broadway revival of Gore Vidal’s The Best Man(Tony Award nomination, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Awards). He has directed more than 50 productions of new plays, revivals and classics for preeminent companies around the United States, including Guthrie Theater, Globe Theater, the Shakespeare Theatre Company, Alley Theatre, Center Stage Theater, The Denver Center for the Performing Arts, George Street Playhouse, Pittsburgh Public Theater, San Jose Repertory Theatre, South Coast Repertory, Westport Country Playhouse, Wilma Theatre, Playwrights Horizons, Primary Stages and the National Actors Theatre. McSweeny’s recent New York highlights include the premieres of Kate Fodor’s 100 Saints You Should Know and Jason Grote’s 1001, which were both named among the Top Ten of 2007 by Time Out and Entertainment Weekly magazines. Other notable recent work includes the premieres of Cornelia and In This Cornerat Globe Theater (San Diego Critics Circle Award) and A Body of Water at both the Globe and Guthrie Theater (San Diego Critics Circle Award and Minneapolis Star Tribune Award); the new musical Ordinary Days and the world premiere of Mr. Marmalade at South Coast Repertory; Major Barbara (Helen Hayes Award nomination) and the American premiere of David Lan’s adaptation of Ion at the Shakespeare Theatre Company; Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf at Center Stage Theater; (Baltimore City Paper, Best of 2008); A View from the Bridge at Guthrie Theater; and revivals of The Glass Menagerie, Death of a Salesman, The Just, The Cherry Orchardand All My Sons for the Chautauqua Theater Company, where he has spent the last five summers as Artistic Director alongside his colleague Vivienne Benesch. McSweeny currently serves as Treasurer of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society, an independent national labor union. He received the first undergraduate degree in theater and dramatic arts bestowed by Columbia University.


Karen Aldridge (Iris)Karen Aldridge (Iris) Chicago credits include: Corinne in The Good Negro, Gladys in The Cook (Jeff Award nomination – Best Actress), and Catherine in Proof (BTAA Ruby Dee Award) at Goodman Theatre. Olivia in Twelfth Night, Lady Macbeth in Macbeth, Isabella in Edward II, and Princess in Love’s Labor’s Lost at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre. She originated the role of Tamyra in Tracy Letts’s Pulitzer Prize-nominated Man from Nebraska at Steppenwolf Theatre Company. Other notable Chicago roles include Nina in Seagull at Writers’ Theatre; Joan in Far Away, and Hester in In the Blood (Jeff Award nomination – Best Actress) at Next Theatre. She also starred in the international tour of Le Costume, a French-language production directed by Peter Brook. Other Regional credits include productions with: Indiana Repertory Theatre, Shakespeare Santa Cruz, Alabama Shakespeare Festival, American Conservatory Theatre, Magic Theatre, Aurora Theatre Company, Marin Theatre Company. Film: The Dilemma directed by Ron Howard.


ThumbnailChristiana Clark (Jasmine) City Pages’ Best Of Actress ’09, recipient of the Ivey Award for Emerging Artist of 2006, Associate Company Member of Pillsbury House Theatre is a native Chicagoan trained at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Hollywood, Ca. She’s thrilled make her inaugural production with The Goodman and Dallas Theater Center in The Trinity River Plays. She’s recently made her off Broadway debut in the Mixed Blood production of Pure Confidence at 59E59 Theatre in NYC. Her work onstage in and around the Twin Cities includes Othello and Endgame w/Ten Thousand Things Theatre; Jon Ferguson’s production of Animal Farm at the Southern Theatre; Pillsbury House Theatre’s Bulrusher; BLUE with Penumbra Theatre; the History Theatre’s Lutefisk Champ & Other Frozen Holiday Tales;  starring roles in Chicago and Wait Until Dark at Paul Bunyan Playhouse in Bemidji, MN; Left Hand Singing, Constant Star, and You Can’t Take it With You with Park Square Theatre; A Raisin in the Sun with Starting Gate; andWomen of Troy and F*cking A both with Frank Theatre; also has worked w/Pillsbury House Theatre’s Breaking Ice Company and Chicago Avenue Project, and as an actor/educator for CLIMB Theatre and Youth Performance Company among other stage and commercial credits


Samuel Ray Gates (Jack)Samuel Ray Gates (Jack) Off-Broadway: Aunt Dan and Lemon (The New Group); Three Seconds in the Key (New Georges); Electra(Classical Theatre of Harlem); Nelson (Partial Comfort); A Wive’s Tale (Summer Play Festival). Regional: The Brother/Sister Plays(McCarter Theater); McReele (Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater); Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Fences (Swine Palace); A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Coriolanus, The Winter’s Tale, Romeo and Juliet (Shakespeare & Company).  TV/Film: The Men Who Stare At Goats, Kings, Law & Order, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Rescue Me.

Penny Johnson Jerald (Rose)Penny Johnson Jerald (Rose) After two A-list cinematic releases–Tina Turner’s biopic What’s Love Got to Do With It and gangsta rap satire Fear of a Black Hat–Jerald carved a permanent niche for herself on four number-one television series, sequentially The Larry Sander’s Show, Star Trek: DS9, ER, and 24.  Penny can also be found directing and/or writing as Artistic Director for her theatre group, OcTc (Outreach Christian Theatre Company). Having directed over 45 plays including Vagina Monologues and Moist, and performing her one-woman show Not My Child, the Cable Ace, NAACP Image, SAG nominated and Juilliard graduate is delighted to return to the stage in The Trinity River Plays.


Jefferson A. Russell (Ray Earl/Frank) Jefferson A. Russell (Ray Earl/Frank) is pleased to be making his DTC debut. Previous credits include: Hangar Theatre, The Piano Lesson (Avery); Woolly Mammoth Theatre Co, Clybourne Park (Kevin/Albert); Everyman Theatre, The Soul Collector (Cedric), Gem of the Ocean (Citizen Barlow), Blues For An Alabama Sky (Leland); Round House, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (Scanlon); African Continuum Theatre, Blood Knot (Zachariah), A Raisin in the Sun (Walter Lee), A Lesson Before Dying (Grant Wiggins); TV: HBO’s The Wire; NBC’s Homicide. Other: BA (Sociology/Criminal Justice) Hampton University, former Baltimore Police Officer.

Jacqueline Williams (Daisy)Jacqueline Williams (Daisy) Chicago and Goodman highlights include: The Brother/Sister Plays; Blues For An Alabama Sky; The Story; Amen Corner; Crowns; Oo-Bla-Dee; Caroline, Or Change; Fences; Electra; Gee’s Bend; The Miser; Yellowman; The  Taming of the Shrew; Othello. Broadway: Young Man From Atlanta. Off-Broadway: From the Mississippi Delta; Mill Fire; Talented Tenth. Jacqueline has performed at numerous regional theaters and is a national voice-over artist. TV: Ride-Along; Turks; ER. Film: The Breakup; The Lake House; Hardball; Meet the Browns. Awards/ Nominations: Ten Chimneys Fellow; American Arts Council; Helen Hayes; Jeff; Black Theatre Alliance.

(l to r) Daisy (Jacqueline Williams) wishes her niece Iris (Karen Aldridge) a happy 17th birthday, reminding her to cherish her youth. Photo by Eric Y. Exit. (back l to r) Daisy (Jacqueline Williams), Rose (Penny Johnson Jerald) and Iris (Karen Aldridge) watch as (l to r) Jack (Samuel Ray Gates) and Frank (Jefferson A. Russell) play a game of basketball. Photo by Eric Y. Exit
(l to r) Iris (Karen Aldridge), Daisy (Jacqueline Williams), Ray Earl (Jefferson A Russell) and Jasmine (Christiana Clark) prepare for their morning breakfast. Photo by Brandon Thibodeaux. Iris (Karen Aldridge) comforts her mother Rose (Penny Johnson Jerald) as they sing songs from their past. Photo by Brandon Thibodeaux.
Iris (Karen Aldridge) reads some of her writing on her 17th birthday. Photo by Eric Y. Exit. Rose (Penny Johnson Jerald) looks down from her Pecan Tree in the back of her yard. Photo by Brandon Thibodeaux.

Jasmine (Christiana Clark) and Daisy (Jacqueline Williams) hold on to Iris (Karen Aldridge) as she succumbs to her feelings. Photo by Eric Y. Exit.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: