Regina Taylor on The Trinity River Plays | Interview
The playwright discusses her trilogy The Trinity River Plays, opening January 15 at the Goodman Theatre.
Regina Taylor the actor won renown first, but Regina Taylor the playwright may have the more lasting impact. The star of I'll Fly Away and The Unit penned Crowns, The Dreams of Sarah Breedlove and Magnolia—all staged, along with several others, at the Goodman Theatre, where Taylor has been a member of the artistic collective for 17 years. Last summer, the 50-year-old Dallas native moved to Chicago. Her latest Goodman production, The Trinity River Plays, begins this week; the trilogy follows Iris Spears and her matriarchal Texas family.
Given the opportunities you’ve seen for other black actresses, do you want to offer them different ones with your plays?
What interests me is the condition of the human spirit. The fact that these characters in Trinity River Plays, the fact is that they are African-American, and what we explore in that is the human condition and the universality of that.
Yet your plays explore the human condition through black, largely female characters, right?
Well, I don’t know if that’s asked of white writers who write white characters. I write characters and these characters are, yes, they are for the most part African-American, and they speak to the human condition.
Growing up in Dallas, what was your earliest exposure to theater?
One of my first memories in terms of creating worlds was being on the floor with crayons with my mother, writing children’s books, and it was a very empowering thing that my mother gave me, this African-American child of a single mother being able to draw on her imagination.
Your mom integrated southwestern Social Security offices. What was that like for her?
I saw how resilient my mother was, I saw how strong she was, I saw how absolutely bright, brilliant and very achingly human and tough she was.
Do any specific memories come to mind?
I think the setup of that tells you everything you need to know. She was one who in entering certain places that someone like her had never entered before and how she carried herself through that with such grace—it was in being a groundbreaking person who always brought her best to any and every circumstance.
And then you had a groundbreaking experience yourself when you integrated a school in Oklahoma.
My entrance in this world is something a lot of people can identify with: how the world tries to label you. The gift that my mother gave me, that my grandmother gave me, was to name yourself.
You once said you were seated next to a white girl who said she didn’t want an n-word sitting next to her. Do you recall that?
Yes, I do.
What do you think about that now?
I look at, again, that you can’t allow people to name you. I’ve been named many things in my life, some things that I don’t accept, some things that I embrace, some things I create myself.
You’ve said the passing of your mother five years ago from ovarian cancer was a catalyst for Trinity.
That’s what the passing of a parent and especially for me the passing of a mother—it is that foundation that has been pulled away. It is in rebuilding, it is in examining the very foundation, the ground you stand on, is where I was.
That must’ve been especially keen for you given she was your only parent, you were an only child.
The bond you had must’ve been—
Yes, absolutely. And so I started talking to friends of mine about those root relationships. Once those eyes are gone, once those hands are gone, then who are you? How do you define yourself?
And how did you answer that?
Well, the challenge is for audiences to come and ask themselves what that is.
For you how is that answered?
For me it’s a constant process of becoming.
You and your character Iris both lived in Dallas, attended SMU, became writers. The parallels all beg the question of the work’s autobiographical underpinnings.
It’s not an autobiographical work. It’s a work of fiction.
Yet there are these parallels between you and this character.
We’re from Texas, this is true. My mother passed away from ovarian cancer, this is true. The particulars of this character’s life are composites of real and imagined. It’s a work of fiction.
What did your mom make of your success?
She encouraged me to live a creative life. To live a creative life is very much a survival tool. It is with my grandmother in having nine kids. If you have $12 till your next paycheck, you’ve gotta think creatively. She felt like what she had passed down to me truly blossomed.
The Trinity River Plays starts Saturday 15.