Waves of memory

Christina Anderson’s luminous and wise the ripple, the wave that carried me home (now at the Goodman in a coproduction with Berkeley Rep, where it played in fall 2022) unfolds in mesmerizing capillary waves of memory, selective and otherwise. (“This country is built on selective memory,” one character observes while watching the Rodney King trial in 1992, and it’s impossible to argue with that, given the escalated police violence 30 years later.)

the ripple, the wave that carried me home Through 2/12: Wed-Thu 7:30 PM, Fri 8 PM, Sat 2 and 8 PM, Sun 2 PM; also Tue 1/31 7:30 PM, Sun 2/5 7:30 PM, and Thu 2/9 2 PM; touch tour and audio description Sat 2/5 2 PM (touch tour 12:30 PM), ASL interpretation Sat 2/11 2 PM, Spanish subtitles Sat 2/11 8 PM, open captions Sun 2/12 2 PM; Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn, 312-443-3800, goodmantheatre.org, $15-$40

Janice (Christiana Clark) is a native of fictional Beacon, Kansas, where her late father Edwin, a civil rights activist who focused on desegregating the town’s public pools, is about to have a pool named in his honor. Janice has several reasons for not wanting to travel from Ohio to Kansas for the ceremony, no matter how much Brianna Buckley’s Young Chipper Ambitious Black Woman, a volunteer with a Black community group in Beacon, implores her. Those reasons spool out as Anderson’s play takes us through nearly 40 years of history. It begins when Janice’s mother Helen (Aneisa Hicks), from the “thinking class” Black people of Beacon, and Edwin (Ronald L. Conner), a “necessity” Black man, (as in “working for the bare necessities”) meet and begin courting in the mid-50s; moves through Janice’s own adolescence as a budding swimmer; and concludes in the midst of the King riots. 

Edwin and Helen’s joint activism kicks into high gear with the “Beacon Three”—a group of white and Black boys who, unable to find a pool where they can swim together, drown in a garbage-filled lake. Yet that activism hits differently for Helen than it does for Edwin in sometimes horrifying ways, which has repercussions for their daughter.

Directed by Jackson Gay, Anderson’s play lets us see the characters and their causes with complexity (intraracial class differences, as well as gendered abuse, come into focus), along with sorrow and horror at the repeating cycles of white abuse. A recurring line, “Is this your first time in America? Let me show you around,” hits with both humor and heartache at the unwillingness of white Americans to confront racism. Yet by the end, there is also a hard-won pride and hope washing over the women in the story.

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