A ‘River’ runs through it

Posted on 04 Nov 2010 at 5:08pm

Dallas is the backdrop for actress-playwright Regina Taylor’s new trilogy

STEVEN LINDSEY  | Contributing Writer stevencraiglindsey@me.com

Actress and Dallas native Regina Taylo
HOME AGAIN | Actress and Dallas native Regina Taylor comes home for inspiration for her new plays.

THE TRINITY RIVER PLAYS
Wyly Theatre, 2400 Flora St.
Nov. 5–Dec. 5 (in previews through Nov. 11). $15–$85.
DallasTheaterCenter.org.

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For Dallas native Regina Taylor, it was important to set The Trinity River Plays in her hometown. It’s something she intimately knows, which allows her characters to be grounded in a reality that’s close to home physically and spiritually.

“It’s not autobiographical, but it is set at home,” she says. “And that is as palpable as the womb in terms of identity.”

Dramatic storytelling is nothing new for Taylor, whose previous work as a playwright include Crowns and Drowning Crow. She’s also an accomplished actress with an amazing résumé spanning theater, television and feature films. She was the first black woman to play Juliet in Broadway’s Romeo and Juliet, but is probably best known for her role as Lilly Harper in the television series I’ll Fly Away, for which she won a Golden Globe and two Emmy nominations. More recently, she starred in CBS’ The Unit alongside Dennis Haysbert.

Yet even with her acting success, writing has always been one of Taylor’s truest loves.

“I started as a writer from as far back as I can remember,” she recalls. “I was writing my own children’s stories when I was little and it was with the encouragement of my mother who wanted me to live a creative life and empower me with the possibilities in terms of creating my own worlds. That changes your perspective on how you face the world and move through the world. It’s something I truly cherish.”

The trilogy consists of three plays, Jar Fly, Rain and Ghost(story), which unfold sequentially at each performance in the Dallas Theater Center production, co-produced with Chicago’s Goodman Theatre.

They follow the life of Iris Sparks, who is a writer, as she moves through these defining transforming moments in her life.

In Jar Fly, we see her when she turns 17 — the same age when jar flies (cicadas) go from little grubby worms living underground to insects climbing up a tree in the dark until the light of day hits it and it can shed its skin and spread its wings.

“It has this incredible voice that’s jarring,” Taylor says, “so you have this young woman trying to find her voice as a writer and a human being. It is the occurrences of this day that take her on this journey that will absolutely transform her life. And it’s what we do with these obstacles, this hard rain that inevitably comes in every life, many times and many seasons, and how we move through that.”

The second play, set 17 years later, focuses on that same hard rain.

“Iris is ready to face another storm as she’s 34 years old. It’s after the disintegration of her marriage and the diagnosis of her mother with cancer. You see this mother and daughter taking this journey together. And with that, there’s a transformation. Do we run away from the hard rain, try to outrun it, or do we stand our ground and take the nourishment from it to grow? We’re tested by life. How we meet those tests on a daily basis defines who we are. It’s an exploration of the human spirit and the tenacity of the human spirit.”

The trilogy closes with Ghost(story), which takes place the day before Iris’ mother’s funeral, then offers a glimpse at what her life is like — again, 17 years later.

“She’s trying to figure out where she’s going to go to move forward. And in that she wrestles with and embraces her ghosts. And that’s what we do. Our past is our shadows. Moving forward, we’re always circling back to deal with and wrestle with our ghosts,” explains Taylor.

Taylor wants audiences to embrace the humor and warmth of her Trinity River Plays, but most importantly, she wants to transport them to another place — even if the stories are set just a few miles from the Wyly.

“You have this arc, this journey, this development of the human spirit,” she says. “I think there’s poetry to the pieces.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 5, 2010.

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