DTC world premiere trilogy captures Oak Cliff experience

The Trinity River Plays
SET PIECES | The glorious set design of ‘The Trinity River Plays’ is just one of its artistic successes. (Photo by Brandon Thibodeaux)

Wyly Theatre, 2400 Flora St.
Through Dec. 5. $15–$85.


The Trinity River Plays take place in and around the kitchen of my first house in Oak Cliff. The yellow appliances and yellow vinyl chairs and table. The metal plant stand. The screen door that snaps closed with a long, thin spring. The tree too close to the house — every house I’ve had in Oak Cliff has had a tree too close to the house.

Longtime Dallas residents will probably pick up on different details —the Yahtzee game on a dresser in a back room in the first play changed out for a more modern one in the second. Designer Tony Rosenthal deserves kudos for that perfect set. It’s enough alone to recommend the play.

But it is not the only reason to recommend it. Just as good are the magnificent performances in this sweeping drama.

In “Part I: Jarfly,” Iris (Karen Aldridge) is a 17-year-old graduate of South Oak Cliff High School, Class of ’78, bound for an SMU education — and, she’s sure, greatness. By “Part III: Ghost(story),” she has evolved from aspiring writer and high school nerd to successful New York author and editor. But when she returns to Oak Cliff for a birthday visit with her mother Rose (24’s Penny Johnson Jerald), her success is not good enough. After all, no one liked her sixth book, Rose points out.

So complete is Aldridge’s transformation it takes a moment to recognize her from play to play. She’s never better than when she’s tossing lines with Jacqueline Williams as Aunt Daisy. Without understanding the irony, Daisy argues how important marriage is — which is why she’s been married three times. (Williams is also great with a garden hose. Don’t fear sitting in the first couple of rows — her aim is perfect.)

Playwright Regina Taylor, best known on Dallas stages for her play Crowns, staged by Dallas Theater Center in 2005, writes sharp and witty dialogue for this family of strong characters. When the play moves to the Goodman Theater in Chicago in January, some of the references will be lost: Born at Parkland, the Hampton Road Y, the long-gone Bishop College, going for lunch at H.L. Green’s add to that Dallas sense of place. But for locals, it simply adds to the richness. (A reference to the Trinity River Project “getting underway any day now” in a scene set in 1996 gets a big laugh from the audience.)

By opening the play in Dallas, the cast (none from here) absorbed their Oak Cliff surroundings, doing a wonderful job of conveying the place before traveling with the show. Even the thunderstorm felt like authentic North Texas weather — just more predictable.

— David Taffet

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 19, 2010.