The Trinity River Plays by Caroline Ullman
At the beginning of Regina Taylor’s The Trinity River Plays, Iris, the main character is a bright seventeen year old writer who looks up to her older cousin and misses her mother, who abandoned her for the summer. Karen Aldridge, playing the teenage Iris, goes through numerous emotional phases throughout plays, jumping quickly from giggles to tears. The trilogy consists of three plays, each an hour long, and during the second two, time jumps forward as the characters age seventeen more years, and their personalities and lives change along with their appearances. Though the plays exceed three hours, the actors kept the audience alert and focused.
The first play of the trilogy is called Jarfly. It begins with Iris writing in her journal, her effervescence flowing throughout the stage as we learn that her mother has gone away for the summer, leaving Iris with her Aunt Daisy and cousin Jasmine. Iris is sheltered, and lonely while her cousin is the complete opposite. When their aunt leaves for work, Jasmine tries to loosen up her cousin, by taking her shopping and then by telling her to flirt with the next-door neighbor, a handsome young basketball star. Lastly, Jasmine gets Iris drunk. At the end of the first act, their uncle, played by Jefferson A. Russell, comes home. He sees the two girls intoxicated and decides to take advantage of the situation, an act that has major ramifications for both Iris and Jasmine.
The plot saddens from here during the second two plays. In the second play, Rain, Iris’s mother Rose returns, almost suddenly. It begins with Jasmine, Daisy and Iris returning from their adult lives to see her. Iris, now an author, recently divorced her husband. Jasmine is a drunk, always begging for money from family members. Rain focuses on Rose’s battle with ovarian cancer, and how it is affecting the mother daughter relationship Iris and Rose share. The last play, Ghoststory, shows the family coping after Rose has gone. Iris imagines her mother; Rose comes back on stage as a figment of Iris’s imagination. A new character is Frank, Iris’s ex-husband, played by Jefferson A. Russell; though it is difficult to tell he plays two characters in Trinity. The high school basketball player, Jack, comes back, and he and Frank try and win over Iris. In the end, she goes back to Frank, and all seems well as Jasmine is sober and Frank and Iris are assumed to get back together.
The acting in The Trinity River Plays was phenomenal. Christina Clark, as Jasmine, stole every scene she was in, with her stage presence and strong personality. Penny Johnson Jerald as Rose was a fantastic portrayal of a woman with cancer; her performance in Rain was depressing yet breathtaking. Jefferson A. Russell’s brilliant switch in characters shows his variety of acting, and his personality as Uncle Ray-Earl was chilling. Regina Taylor’s choice to have the same actor play Ray-Earl and Frank was subtle yet clever, and made it clearer that Iris only saw her uncle in every man she touched. Finally, Karen Aldridge as Iris fell a little flat at times, not because of her acting but because the character was written flatter than the others; her personality does not change much throughout. Aldridge did the best she could, if only Taylor had given Iris more depth the performance would have been exceptional.
There was one more character in the Trinity trilogy. The set was outstanding; it included an outside patio, a garden filled with flowers, an inside kitchen, living room, and stairs to the front door. Not only were its details impressive, but with every scene, the characters would move to a different part of the house. Each corner of the stage was used; the actors used the space marvelously. It is rare to see a play with such a well designed set. It was as if the set were one more character in the plays.
The Trinity trilogy is not for everyone. This play would not suit those who seek an upbeat performance. However if it’s something with substance, incredible acting, and a breathtaking set that is wanted, The Trinity River Plays has just opened and is the perfect match.