Christina Anderson's timely play gets a superb production at KCRep.

By: Mar. 19, 2023

In her new play the ripple, the wave that carried me home, Christina Anderson (who hails originally from Kansas City, Kansas) takes on the legacy of racial segregation. The story - that is, what one might call the outer story - concerns the segregated swimming facilities in the fictional town of Beacon, Kansas. And indeed, the struggle of the protagonist Janice's (Meredith Noel) family to open up the community pools for all provides the scaffolding on which the play is constructed. But the actual story - the inner story, if you will - is focused more tightly on the toll the fight takes on Janice and her family. By taking us back and forth through time, Ms. Anderson shows us how the struggle defines her life from early childhood, her relationship with her parents, and how she defines herself as a black woman in the 20th and 21st centuries.

Janice's parents Edwin and Helen (Gregory Warren and Tiffany Yvonne Cox, respectively), having both grown up with a love of swimming at the local "black" pool, find that once the law decrees the swimming pools desegregated, the white backlash results in them eventually having nowhere to swim at all. Determined that the next generation should have the same opportunity as they did, they embark on a decades-long fight to truly integrate the city facilities. Janice is born into this fight: from age eight, she has marched and spoken out. As adolescence hits, she begins to push back, part of a generation of young black people who have different ideas about which battles should be fought. The result is a rift between the generations, one that has never quite healed until one day when Janice, now a wife and mother herself, gets a very surprising phone call.

If you've heard anything about this play, most likely they have mentioned the set design. And indeed, Josafath Reynoso's work is superb, as is Rachael Cady's lighting design. As to the performers, Ms. Noel's Janice is well-drawn and instantly relatable. Warren & Cox are excellent as the parents, and Chioma Anyanwu does a marvelous job switching between Janice's spirited aunt Gayle and a character named, we kid you not, Young Chipper Ambitious Black Woman. The four of them work so well together, one may almost feel one is eavesdropping on a real family, for better and for worse.

We cannot review this piece without at least noting the times in which it has been birthed. As of this writing, 18 states have passed laws against so-called "critical race theory", with nearly every other state having had at least one such bill put forward. CRT, a concept generally found in postgraduate studies, has been defined downward to something approximating "any aspects of history that might make those in power feel uncomfortable". Lately, it seems the comfort level of an increasingly small and shrill minority is being put forward as the first and greatest priority of our society. "This does not fit into my worldview," the thinking goes, "therefore I should not have to deal with it." The pushback when traditionally outside voices make themselves heard is an unfortunately familiar phenomenon. And while it is tempting to dismiss it as the instinctual smothering of guilty consciences, there is a very real and deliberate movement here toward controlling the narrative. If they can rewrite the past, they can tighten their grip on the future. The only sure-fire countermeasure is giving room to more voices, in more places, and listening even to - especially to - the parts we don't necessarily want to hear. Nobody likes discomfort, but it is the seed of growth and the bulwark against stagnation.

Ms. Anderson's work is an excellent example of voices that need to be heard. It takes on the segregation fight not with a high-level history book approach, but from the very ground level, the people fighting the fight and feeling the scars of battle. And yet, in the end, there is joy. This is something this reviewer has seen time and again: no matter how the waves of majority censure crash against the "out" groups, we always find joy amongst ourselves. And that is key, I think. It is a great and simple thing, a bulwark against a hostile world, which no amount of legislation can efface.

the ripple, the wave that carried me home will be performing at the Cpoken stage until April 2, when it will be taken on the road as part of the KCRep for All program. During this time, free performances will be given in community spaces across the KC metro area. For more information, see Click Here.


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From This Author - Kelly Luck

Kelly has been writing for theatre since she first came to Kansas City in 2011. She's a lifelong theater lover, and has written for several local and online publications. She still lives in Kansas... (read more about this author)


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