Generations of Sisters Battle Racism and Heredity in ‘Mud Row’ at Cygnet Theatre 

His cast
The cast of “Mud Row” at the Cygnet Theater. Photo by Karli Cadel

Same roots, divergent branches.

Two pairs of sisters, representing three generations of women Dominic MorrissoIn 2018 “Mud Row”, follow one of the two paths: Fighter or Striver.

The guerrillas are fighting for civil rights – or their own. The Strivers are trying to get married or get an education as a way to success.

Both branches try to break free from their roots and escape their shame: a patriarch who left the family by his own name and a matriarch who flew from man to man, eventually abandoning her children to be raised by one bitter, despised, icy and extremely strict grandmother (one of the fighters we meet in the beginning; we never see the ungrateful mother).

The play also moves back and forth in time, between the generations of brothers, a couple from the 1960s and their descendants in 2018.

Their roots lie deep in the family home in Mud Row, a low-cost black neighborhood in West Chester, PA, not far from Philadelphia. The area earned its name as a sewage catchment and the cynical observation of “colored people has always been” the mud of the people.

In the 60’s, Frances (without nonsense Joey Yvonne Jones) aggressively pickets and protests for a place at the local counter. Elsie’s sister (Andréa Agosto) turns her gaze to a college boy, someone who will raise her.

In 2018, men come into the picture, mainly as loyal protectors (one with hugs, one with bats). For three months now, intense but spiritual fighter Toshi (excellent Rachel Cognata) and Tyriek’s big friend (compact Leo Ebanks) have been squatting in the ancestral home, which has been empty for five years since Grandma Elsie died. . After a life of drugs and crime, Toshi feels she has changed and owes her the peace of place to call her hers.

Unfortunately for her, the house was left to her sister, Regine (proud Marti Gobel), who wants to get rid of the place and its memories (“this is the house of my teenage anxiety”). She and her husband, Davin (affectionate, optimistic Rondrell McCormick) return to receive ratings and are ready to accept offers from developers planning to turn the square into a parking lot.

Despite the anger and resentment of the past, Jeter women cling to their family belief “Love, Fight, Togetherness”.

Cygnet Theater and his talented guest director, Delicia Turner Sonnenberg, present a dynamic production of a play that addresses racism, violence, gentrification and life choices, against the backdrop of two periods of change for African Americans. But most of all, it concerns family, heritage and fraternity.

The detailed set (Brian Redfern), with a large tree behind the house and a front yard of soil and (symbolically) exposed roots, changes scene by scene, thanks to the very effective lighting design (Caroline Andrew), to look alternately fresh And fruity. The sound is by Melanie Chen Cole and the costumes by Regan A. McKay.

How this work came about is a story in itself.

Ordered by Light of the people theater in Malvern, PA, not far from West Chester, as part of the New Play Frontiers program. In 2012, they selected six up-and-coming playwrights (Morrisso had not yet been nominated for a Tony Award or MacArthur Genius Scholarship) and had them tour local neighborhoods to select one to write. The writers then connected with community residents and a playwright.

Morisseau found six characters and two time frames, but kept an eye on women, which Turner Sonnenberg, co-founder and former artistic director of the Moxie Theater, focused on women. This is actually the third of Morisseau’s works directed by Turner Sonnenberg.

It’s a good fight. Both the playwright and the director favor the fascinating characters, the strong women and the action that takes place at important moments in American history.

While the sisters here are the focus, this seems like a whole lot, with everyone pulling their weight – including the smart attacking man (Tyriek) and the trusted and always optimistic (Davin). Everyone, like women, is capable of huge reserves of love and faith.

“No one can be stuck in the mud forever,” says one of the men. And despite being trapped for generations, their sisters and partners find a way to come to terms with their past and move on.

  • Mud seriesWill last until June 19 at Cygnet Theater4040 Twiggs Street in the Old Town
  • The performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 pm, Friday and Saturday at 8 pm, with a matinee on Sunday at 2 pm.
  • Tickets ($ 30 and up) can be purchased at 619-337-1525 or cygnettheatre.com
  • Performance duration: 2 hours. (including break)
  • COVID protocol: Masks must be worn indoors at all times.

Pat Launer, Member of American Theater Critics Association, is a longtime San Diego art writer and Emmy Award-winning theater critic. You can find a file with its previews and reviews at patlauner.com.

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