A play of amazing depth and power is not to be missed
Playwright Dominique Morisseau, whose Skeleton Crew was presented by Premiere Stages at Kean University several years ago and which was presented on Broadway this past season, comes up with another powerful look at contemporary Black lives with Mud Row. It is a play of amazing depth and power, following two generations as each deals with differing paths for achieving fulfillment and the bonds of sisterhood within the family structure. It is a play not to be missed.
We first meet the two Jeter sisters. Elsie (Ashley Nicole Baptiste) believes in W.E.B. DuBois’ theory of the “talented tenth,” that tenth of Black men who will gain college educations and use their talents to become leaders in the Black community and pioneers for civil rights. Frances (Lekethia Dalcoe) believes in taking action to gain civil rights, including protests, boycotts, and marches to achieve progress. When Elsie gets pregnant by her “talented tenth” boyfriend, she becomes an object of community scorn. She firmly believes in her boyfriend eventually doing the right thing by marrying her, even though his family disapproves. Meanwhile, Frances cares for Elsie during the early days of her pregnancy, placing no faith in the virtue of the father.
Simultaneously, we meet another set of sisters, Regine (Stacey Sherrell) and Toshi (Alinca Hamilton). Regine is the epitome of Elsie’s aspirations: a successful businesswoman married to Davin (Landon Woodson). Toshi is an ex-addict who has been living on the streets since she was 15, now scrambling to create a stable life for herself and her boyfriend Tyriek (Malik Reed). Toshi has returned to Elsie’s house, deserted for several years, squatting there with Tyriek. But the house has been left to Regine, who, not knowing her sister is there, plans to sell the house to a buyer who will turn it into a parking lot.
Regine and Davin, coming during the day to inspect the house prior to the appraisal, keep missing Toshi and Tyriek, who return at night to find their belongings rearranged. Finally, the two sisters, each harboring long-festering resentment toward the other, meet and struggle over the future of the house.
The extremely talented cast is guided through this emotionally forceful play by director Marshall Jones III, recently the Producing Artistic Director of Crossroads Theatre Company. Jones does not allow the play to descend into melodrama, keeping the deep feelings and concerns of the characters foremost in performance.
The set, created by David M. Barber, shows both the downstairs of the house and, behind a scrim curtain, an upstairs room. The lighting and projections of Devorah Kengmana move the action seamlessly between these two areas. Ali Turns’ costuming captures two periods: present-day for Regine and Toshi, highlighting their class differences, and 60’s style for Elsie and Frances, underscoring their differences in achieving their goals.
Toward the end of Mud Row, Frances observes, relative to her family and applying to their descendants, “At the core of who we always been…is love and fight and togetherness.” This story of two generations of Black women in America is unflinching in its honesty, heartbreaking and inspiring in its emotional depths. I strongly urge you to make the trip to Union’s Kean University to see Mud Row.
Mud Row is presented by Premiere Stages at the Bauer Boucher Theatre Center on the campus of Kean University in Union through July 31st. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit premierestagesatkean.org or call 908-737-4092. The theatre center requires the wearing of masks inside the building.