the ripple, the wave that carried me home – Review by Bonnie Goldberg

Drowning of children ages 1-4 is tragically the leading cause of death for pre-schoolers. Therefore, the teaching of little ones to swim, at a very young age, is paramount. What happens when pools are segregated and prevent Black kids from the privilege of entering the water? What might you do if your children were denied entry and, effectively, burdened with a lack of options? The story of one such family and the social injustice it reveals are the sensitive and illuminating drama “the ripple, the wave that carried me home” by Christina Anderson currently swimming upstream at the Yale Repertory Theatre in New Haven until Saturday, May 20.

The first thing we learn about Jennean Farmer’s Janice is that she hates water but she drinks it nonetheless. She contends we are all small rivers, filled with lakes, and ultimately an ocean. From the time she was a youngster growing up in Beacon, Kansas her parents Helen (Chalia Le Tour) and Edwin (Marcus Henderson) made swimming a center part of her life, encouraging her to perfect that skill. In her small hometown, there were a trio of pools, two of a fine quality and designated for whites only and the third a poor substitute for the Black community. Janice’s parents devoted much of their efforts on opening all three pools equally and integrated while giving lessons to their neighbors who were Black.

Now as an adult, living in suburban Ohio, Janice is painfully reminded of her childhood by a series of phone calls from a persistent Young Chipper Ambitious Black Woman (Adrienne S. Wells) who also plays the part of Janice’s vibrant Aunt Gayle. Janice does not want to know what the never ending phone calls are about until Aunt Gayle insists she answer. It seems her Kansas home is dedicating the pool that features so centrally in her youth to her father, the Edwin P. Cullen Jr. Memorial, and they want her to speak. The invitation sets off a flood of memories, many tragic, some humorous, others mindful of the struggle to end segregation. Janice is unsure of whether or not she should attend. The central family issues are surrounded by the bigger picture of how her race is treated by society and how little has improved over time. Tamilla Woodward directs this history lesson/involving family saga with skill and integrity, on a set by Emmie Finckel that splashes with joy at play’s end after wading through the shallows and depths.

For tickets ($15-65), call the Yale Rep, 1120 Chapel Street, New Haven at 203-432-1234 or online at Performances are Tuesday at 8 p.m., Wednesday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., Thursday at 8 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., and Saturday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.

Come learn that each of us is 60% water and all the benefits and limitations that surround the life giving force that is essential to us and our well-being. Plan to dive in and float awhile in this thought provoking play that will challenge how you view the world.