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 www.goodmantheatre.org for more info.

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

        
        

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