Water is the central metaphor in Christina Anderson’s “The Ripple, the Wave that Carried Me Home”, the well-meaning drama about racism currently on stage at New Haven’s Yale Repertory Theatre. Like the metaphor-heavy “The Rembrandt” that opened earlier this month at TheaterWorks Hartford, Anderson’s play is yet another contemporary drama that utilizes its central metaphor and for 90 nonstop minutes without an intermission.
Set during the 1930s-1992 (the first few days of the LA riots) , “The Ripple…” is narrated throughout by Janice (Jennean Farmer), the daughter of Edwin (Marcus Henderson) and Helen (Chalia La Tour) who, during her childhood, led a civil rights charge in their Kansas town to integrate the town’s public swimming pools. Janice enters the play with a glass of water and the H2O metaphor is hammered home throughout with endless monologues explaining how, as black Americans, they can basically be kept afloat or drowned. Anderson’s play is a perfect example of drama that “tells” instead of “shows”. There is lots of “And then this happened…” talk in “The Ripple…” and though the issues raised are important and still sadly relevant, the play as drama is overly familiar and gets bogged down in endless narration.
The strong company of actors, under committed direction by Tamilla Woodard, do what they can under the circumstances. Shouldering the verbose role of Janice, Farmer is earnest and appealing while both Henderson and La Tour offer splendid support as her parents. La Tour is especially good pushing down her rage after an altercation with a white policeman. And Adrienne S. Wells steals scenes continuously playing two very different roles: Janice’s acerbic aunt and the outrageously titled “Young Chipper Ambitious Black Woman”. She’s a keeper.
As usual, Yale delivers in technical departments but Emmie Finckel’s expansive scenic design is at once too much and not enough. It shoves two raised platforms on each side of a large open space whose purpose doesn’t become clear until the very final scene. While impressive, it didn’t really work for me. Alan C. Edwards’ lighting and Henry Rodriguez’s projections both add a shimmer of water imagery throughout and it’s quite often beautiful. In general, the drama has its heart in the right place and speaks with passion about its major theme, but the delivery of this information may as well be on radio.
“The Ripple, the Wave That Carried Me Home” continues at Yale Rep, 1120 Chapel Street in New Haven through Saturday, May 20. Audience members are required to wear masks at all performances. For further information and ticket reservations, call the theatre box office at 203.432.1234 or visit: www.yalerep.org.
Tom Holehan is Co-chairman of the Connecticut Critics Circle and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: firstname.lastname@example.org. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.