Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Connecticut and the Berkshires

the ripple, the wave that carried me home
Yale Repertory Theatre
Review by Fred Sokol

Also see Fred's recent review of The Rembrandt

Jennean Farmer, Chalia La Tour,
and Adrienne S, Wells

Photo by Joan Marcus
the ripple, the wave that carried me home is an important play benefitting from an affecting production at Yale Repertory Theatre. Playwright Christina Anderson addresses racial inequities and alludes to swimming pool exclusivity. The show's urgent messaging shines through even if there's a great deal of narration and the script's back-and-forth time line is problematic.

Beacon, Kansas, is a fictional town where Janice (Jennean Farmer) grew up with her parents Helen (Chalia La Tour) and Edwin (Marcus Henderson). It is now 1992 and Janice, now living in Ohio, is asked to return to Beacon since the formerly named Brookside public swimming pool is reopening. It is slated to bear the deceased Edwin's name and the idea is to have Janice speak about him. Her mother is still alive yet her name is not be included even though both were proactive civil rights advocates. Younger Helen was both soulful and strong. When Janice was a teenager she lived on a farm with her Aunt Gayle (Adrienne S. Wells). Adrienne S. Wells is also cast as Chipper Ambitious Black Woman, the Beacon-based individual asking Janice to make the trip to her childhood region.

The play often flips from Ohio (at the time of the 1992 Rodney King riots in Los Angeles) to Beacon and so forth. Helen, three decades earlier, taught youthful Black boys and girls to swim. One after another, the public pools closed and both Helen and Edwin stepped up to ensure that people of color would have a place to swim.

This is a keen, relevant social justice theatre piece centering upon Janice and her words. Anderson is an articulate dialogue writer, and Janice's stories and recollections are pivotal to plot development. Scenes involving other characters (two spirited, fun movement sequences) are essential for variety. In welcome appearance,s the character of Gayle is both funny and uninhibited.

the ripple is very much a memory play, a reflective, personal work that demonstrates activism's potency. Janice had a traumatic childhood and she literally speaks of her distaste for water. Now, before the audience's eyes, she is forced to come full circle with her conflicted past. For example, Janice says of her parents, "They chose the movement, not me." Wells's Chipper Ambitious Black Woman appears every so often and she brings vitality, youth and energy to the show. The play demands and receives many versatile performance. Everyone accordingly adjusts to given time periods and that requires actors to instantly shift in chronological age. Actress Jennean Farmer is oftentimes front and center where she receives strong support from each individual on stage with her.

Scenic designer Emmie Finckel wisely avoids the temptation to create an immersive swimming pool. Instead, the set is suggestive: high, open ceiling, tiles, and more. This neatly complements the theme.

Director Tamilla Woodard, chair of the acting program at David Geffen School of Drama at Yale, must honor the thrust of Anderson's play, create balance, and maximize lighter, buoyant sequences. She succeeds with all and allows the final scene of the show to become its most invigoratingly celebratory.

This timely production scores mightily as it insists that the fight for integration is ongoing. It denounces racism and offers possibility and hope. Janice is significantly verbal but perhaps she must in order to drive home the playwright's intent. At times, the backward and forward changing of course works against character study. It requires a theatergoer to reroute attention. In a more overall sense, though, this admirable presentation is quite absorbing.

the ripple, the wave that carried me home runs through May 20, 2023, at Yale Repertory Theatre, 1120 Chapel St., New Haven CT. For information and tickets, please call 203-432-1234 or visit