By JEAN LOWERISON
In Dominique Morisseau’s searing “Mud Row,” two generations of African American women in West Chester, Pa. navigate problems of class, race, love and family.
The play, commissioned as a project of the Pennsylvania-based People’s Light theater company, starts with the premise that “we got to know how we got somewhere so we know how to get somewhere else.”
The show opens when sophisticated Philly-dweller Regine (Marti Gobel) finds out that she’s inherited the old family row house in West Chester from her (unseen) grandmother. That house holds unhappy memories and Regine figures the best thing to do is put it up for sale. But when she and boyfriend Davin (Rondrell McCormick) arrive to set up the appraisal process previous to sale, they find that two poverty-ridden squatters named Toshi (Rachel Cognata) and Tyriek (Leo Banks) have been living there.
To complicate matters further, Regine and Toshi, a former drug addict, realize that they are sisters and both have many painful childhood memories. Can they heal those wounds and offer forgiveness?
A years-earlier family confrontation takes us to the 1960s, where 20-something Elsie (Andréa Agosto) has decided to marry up in order to get out of the poverty she was born into. But sister Frances (Joy Yvonne Jones), a firebrand civil rights activist, has a wider view. She feels that African Americans’ lot as a whole needs to be improved, and is convinced that the best way to do that is to get out on the picket-line to make change happen.
The action moves back and forth in time, problems and arguments come and go, and dispositions sour and improve – just like life.
Brian Redfern’s set and Regan A. McKay’s costumes add to the time-shifting ambience and look of the piece. Props also to lighting designer Caroline Andrew and Melanie Cole Chen for the tricky lighting and sound designs.
Delicia Turner Sonnenberg, founding artistic director of Moxie Theatre and one of the best in town, helms this complex, sometimes tricky, occasionally maddening concoction with a steady hand. She is aided by a superb sextet of excellent actors. Every one of them will convince you of whatever they want you to believe.
But can hope, civility and forgiveness survive? If you’re interested in a most unusual exploration of the topic, don’t miss this production.
“Mud Row” plays through June 19, 2022 at Cygnet Theatre, 4040 Twiggs Street in Old Town.
Showtimes: Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m.; Sunday at 2 p.m.
Tickets: firstname.lastname@example.org or (619) 337-1525