The Trinity River Plays at Goodman Theatre | Theater review
Regina Taylor’s trilogy is essentially a single three-act play tracking the tangled emotional life of young, gifted and black Iris and her Dallas family; while its premiere benefits from a winning cast, one has the nagging sense that a perfectly satisfying shorter play is being dutifully, repetitively padded out.
Don’t let the title fool you: This new work by Taylor (a coproduction with Dallas Theater Center, where it was seen last fall) is essentially a single three-act play, tracking the tangled emotional life of young, gifted and black Iris (Aldridge) and her Dallas family. Set in 1978, its opening piece, Jar Fly, introduces us to the bookish, 17-year-old protagonist, her wayward cousin Jasmine (Clark) and watchful Aunt Daisy (Williams); it also lays the groundwork for Iris’s ensuing troubles connecting with the people around her. Her tasks, as the thirtysomething editor who returns for Rain and Ghoststory, are to overcome those troubles even as she surmounts her mother’s death.
If that seems a little prefabricated, well, the task The Trinity River Plays never quite discharges is that of opening up Iris’s story to take full advantage of its monumental scale (matched by Todd Rosenthal’s gorgeously monumental set). Taylor patiently elaborates a set of neat dichotomies: books versus life experience, individual aspirations versus family ties, secrecy versus openness. But one has the nagging sense that a perfectly satisfying shorter play is being dutifully, repetitively padded out.
With this cast in particular, that shorter play could be a knockout. Sweet, self-possessed and cautious, Aldridge makes Iris a winning, if always slightly distant, heroine. She has fine backup in whiskey-voiced Clark, tart Williams and the tightly wound Penny Johnson Jerald as Iris’s mother, Rose. McSweeny orchestrates the action gracefully, with standout moments including judo assaults on Iris from Rose’s ghost and a pickup basketball game between two middle-aged rivals for Iris’s heart.