There’s a marvelous architecture to Dominque Morriseau’s Mud Row—a sure sense of craft that very nicely mirrors the old house which is both the setting of this lovely new play, and, more deeply, a metaphor for the lives of those who inhabit it.
Across the stage, we see assorted family photographs taken over the course of several decades. Some capture moments we can recognize: a wedding, proud parents with a new baby. Others are more opaque. But all of them invite us to wonder about the circumstances. If only these walls could talk…
In Mud Row, they do.
We meet two pairs of women, clearly from different time frames. The various reveals of who they are and how they’re connected is part of the pleasure of Morriseau’s storytelling, and I don’t want to deny you that experience. Instead, I’ll simply say that one thing is clear early on. All four have something to do with a house in West Chester, Pennsylvania, that now lies in disrepair.
As residents of this area will know, West Chester is a real town—only a few miles from Malvern’s People’s Light, where the play is having its world premiere. The neighborhood seen here is chiefly black, and its fortunes have gone up and down. So have those of its residents, including the six people seen here—Elsie (played by Tiffany Rachelle Stewart), Frances (Gillian Glasco), Regine (Nikkole Salter—a particular standout in the superb cast), Toshi (Renika Williams), Davin (Bjorn DuPaty), and Tyriek (Eric Robinson Jr.).
It’s Morriseau’s great gift to bring humor and compassion to the gradually unfolding stories of their lives—imperfect lives, to be sure, but lived with commitment and dignity under sometimes harrowing circumstances. It is a sign of her skill that each character registers as a distinct individual, but all of them share something notable, which we come to understand as Mud Row shares its secrets.
Sometimes Morriseau overdoes the declamatory sections, pushing metaphoric points that she’s already made more subtly through intricate (and beautifully written) conversations. But it’s a powerful and gripping play, and one of the few times in recent memory that I wished the intermission would end sooner, since I really wanted to see the resolution that she so cleverly set up.
Mud Row is a coup twice over for People’s Light. First, the company commissioned the work, and I feel certain it will be seen on other regional stages soon. I can only hope it gets a production as good as this one, which is about as close to perfectly put together as theater ever can be. Special kudos to director Steve Broadnax III; the design team of Michael Carnahan (scenery), Shilla Benning (costumes), and Kathy Perkins (lighting); and, of course, the fine cast.
As if that isn’t enough, Mud Row is also part of an ongoing initiative at People’s Light called “New Play Frontiers,” which has six works by prominent writers that focus on local area neighborhoods. It’s an inspired idea, and if we get more works at the level of this one, it will be a triumph indeed.
Mud Row plays through July 28th. For more information, visit the People’s Light website.