Vanity Robinson – The Trinity River Plays

February 15, 2011 in Cindy Bandle Young Critics by Cindy-Bandle-Young-Critics

A Rootless Thing Blows in the Wind… Lost: The Trinity River Plays by Vanity Robinson

“I know you… I know you very well”. How can we know anyone else if we do not first know ourselves? If we can’t find our voices and escape our ghosts? These are some themes tackled in Regina Taylor’s Trinity River Plays, a trilogy set up to tell the story of a young girl’s life. The trilogy was first a single play, presented as only the second part, Rain. One might argue that the addition of the first play, Jar Fly, and the last, Ghoststory, was unnecessary, but the three plays skillfully and poetically support each other.

Iris, played by Karen Aldridge, is our main character. We follow her life parallel to the cicadas’, or “Jar Flies”, that she questions her Aunt Daisy (Jacqueline Williams) about. She uses the stories of her aunt’s childhood to create a story of her own about the crafty creatures that “produce more offspring than the predators can eat”. This theory of power in numbers is tested when Iris and her cousin, Jasmine (Christina Clark), is defeated by Uncle Ray Earl, Jasmine’s stepfather. Jefferson Russell’s character swoops down as a large bird would and snatches every bit of innocence from the 17-year-old Iris. After the night of her 17th birthday, Iris is a different person. She shreds her writing to pieces and sheds her skin, leaving it there at the breakfast table. The cicada climbs up the tree and there she makes her infamous noise by rubbing together the things that take her into flight; her notebook paper. Clark and Gates’ (Iris’ love interest stolen from her by her own cousin) characters appear to be a bit mature for their teenage roles as the magic of theatre is a limited one. I have been debating with the possibility of casting younger actors for the roles if the change does not take away from the playwright’s message.

The story continues into the next stage of the cicada’s life. After 17 years of living away from her world in New York, Iris returns to Dallas to reconnect to her old life. Here we see the relationships within the family have altered. With the help of the first play, you clearly see the fascinating transformation in Iris, Rose (Penny Johnson), Daisy, and Jasmine. The reluctance to “just get it all out” feeds the tension between the four women. Jasmine, who has turned out into an alcoholic, finds comfort in the consistency of the home, the décor, the people. Iris, on the other hand, is frustrated by it. She is trying to take some of home with her back beneath the ground before she is hit with the news of her mother’s diagnosis. She stays and cares for her during her treatments and into her old age. She does make those connections, though. Listening to the story of her Aunt’s mental troubles, Iris realizes that she too should be marveling over “how far out I had gone”. This is where the rain begins, which seems to be contained within a different section whenever it falls. It never covers the entire stage. The rain doesn’t just fall on Iris or just on Jasmine, it alternates. This could embody the idea of the good and bad thing about the family’s strong bond. When one falls, the entire vessel will sink.

I went to see the play on press night and then a second time with my friends and a third time with my mother. Each and every time, I noticed something new. For instance, the two mothers, Daisy and Rose, are very different. The young women they’ve raised are exact replicas of their own lives and personalities, yet, ironically enough, they each are drawn to their nieces. Jasmine’s envy of her mother and cousin’s relationship is made clear before Iris’. It’s like a game of give and take as we watch how when one mother cannot put aside her pride and nurture her daughter, the aunt steps in. They balance each other out in a way that would seem unlikely, but I think is true for most relationships in which the pairs are so close. It isn’t until the last play, Ghoststory, that we see these mothers begin to defend their actions. Rose finds her foundation from her garden that represents her past, as Iris does Dallas. The dying woman takes responsibility for her daughter’s failed marriage and once passionate career by excusing her as apart of those of us who “practice what we witness”. Daisy, hurt by her daughter’s remarks about her failure to be raised by a fitting enough mother in the second play, admits to feeding Jasmine’s ravenous downfall. The truth is beginning to unravel about Jack, Frank (who was masterfully transformed into Ray Earl’s character), Uncle Ray Earl, Jasmine, and every other event, harmonious or painful, in the past 17 years.

I loved the play. I found it profound and the words monumental. The loud booming sound effects intensified a peek into these normal, everyday kinds of people. The songs played at transition times seemed a bit out of place the first time but by the second time I saw the play, they had grown on me. Jasmine and Daisy’s characters teamed up to expose the attitudes with which the family addressed their problems, determined to live on. Life has its own character in the play. When the cicada sounded and the furniture moved and the astronaut howled at the moon it had managed to escape to, far away from the misery of earth, Life went on. Life continued to happen in the midst of all the chaos and the only thing that remained constant was Change.