We are in Beacon, Kansas—where public pools had not been integrated—meeting a family of activists in the center of challenging the status quo.
Goodman Theatre’s Play – a Co-Production with Berkley Repertory Theatre
When Janice’s mother Helen (Aneisa J. Hicks) and her sister Gayle (Brianna Buckley) first enter the scene in their bathing suits, we find ourselves with them in a community center, replete with old-style lighting and signage that looks like it has seen better days. Upstage we see a wall of old trophies and photos, and downstage is a pool that slowly starts to fill with water. As the supportive younger sister, Gayle helps Helen make her way to the steps and down into the pool. Both are so excited and ready for what comes next.
From the other side of the stage, Janice (Christina Clark) enters in her bathing suit. Janice looks perhaps a little more nervous, but once she sees her mom and aunt, seems to feel a bit more comfortable as she descends the pool steps. As the three women get into position, the music starts to play. A water aerobics class begins to unfold. Janice might feel a little silly, but all three are laughing as they move along, sharing this moment together.
The Opening Night audience cheered, and many of us even started to move along to the beat in our seats, mirroring the actors’ celebratory movements.
Christina Anderson’s Script Flows Like Water
The story actually begins when now adult Janice-- daughter of prominent activists fighting for integration of public pools in Kansas during the ‘60s-- is invited to speak at a ceremony honoring her father. This triggers her down a spiral of flashbacks. As she confronts almost forgotten memories from long ago, she must decide whether she is ready to reckon with the personal and political history of her hometown- Beacon, Kansas.
Janice moves in and out of these memories. She takes us from her childhood through teenage years, and finally into adulthood as she looks back. We see Clark physically embody Janice’s age in each moment. When she is eight-years-old, for example, her father asks her to give a speech at an upcoming ceremony as part of the movement for integration. Over the course of recalling the conversation, we see Janice slowly sink down to the floor, pulling at her pants leg – much like a young child. As Janice tries to get out of giving this speech for her father, we see her stutter through her words and stare down at the floor – avoiding all eye contact. As soon as the memory is complete, Clark jumps back up, becoming adult Janice yet again to offer commentary.
It’s in moments like this that we get to witness all through the eyes of a young child – seeing first-hand how Janice’s parents impacted her experience of her hometown during its struggles for integration.
The ending result, in this writer’s view, is that the script and acting combine to create a deeply personal, intimate story with a flow not unlike water. We ride the waves of highs and lows, and what it means to travel home and confront everything one leaves behind.
A good portion of the play is structured like a one-woman show – with Janice at the center narrating and leading the audience through her experience of Beacon. As she moves in and out of memories, the ensemble comes to fill in the roles of her family – primarily her father, Edwin (Ronald L. Conner), Helen, and Aunt Gayle. We see the political movement in Beacon through the eyes of Janice – ranging from her childhood through teenage years, and finally in adulthood as she looks back. Depending on how aware Janice might have been of the political ramifications on her family, our view of that moment in her personal history might feel a little more innocent or incomplete. Directed by Jackson Gray, the ripple, the wave that carried me home weaves in and out of the past and present seamlessly, in this reviewer’s opinion.
Clark has to jump through quite a few challenges and hurtles as a performer in this piece – physically embodying various ages that do not appear in chronological order, and often only for brief scenes. This writer certainly felt that Clark handled the transitions with ease. The subject matter is not always easy to watch unfold, but Clark carries the audience from moment to moment – treating them with care and inviting them into the intimate story as almost another character in the scene.
Heartfelt storytelling and deeply personal performances make the ripple, the wave that carried me home an emotional roller coaster from start to finish. A story about family and hardship that is unfortunately still quite relevant, but also full of joy and hope.
Brianna Buckley (Gayle/Young Chipper Ambitious Black Woman), Christiana Clark (Janice), Ronald L. Conner (Edwin) and Aneisa J. Hicks (Helen)
Todd Rosenthal (Set Design); Montana Levi Blanco (Costume Design); Jason Lynch (Lighting Design); Noel Nichols (Original Music and Sound Design). Casting is by Lauren Port, CSA and Rachael Jimenez, CSA. Kaitlyn Kitzmiller is the Stage Manager.
January 13 - February 12, 2023
170 N Dearborn Street
Chicago, IL 60601
About the Author: Lauren Katz
Lauren Katz is a freelance director and dramaturge, and new to the Chicago Theatre Scene. She recently moved from Washington DC, where she worked with Mosaic Theater Company of DC in Company Management, as well as directed around town with various theaters.
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