In Dominique Morisseau’s “Mud Row,” being produced by Fonseca Theatre through March 20, jumps between two time periods. In one, Elsie (Jacquelyn Owens), a striver, and her sister, Frances (Lakesha Lorene), an activist, have their views challenged by harsh reality. A generation later, Regine (Aniqua ShaCole) has inherited their house only to find it occupied by a squatter — her estranged sister, Toshi (Anila Akua).
— Here, as in Morisseau’s “Skeleton Crew”, the playwright makes clear why she is a fast-rising star in contemporary theater. It’s a rare treat to have two plays by the same author playing concurrently in Indianapolis, let alone two such solid, humanistic works.
— “What do we do with the estate?” sometimes seems like the starting point of half of the new plays being written. That’s understandable, perhaps, given that, once a playwright gets past their “What are we going to do with our lives?” twenties, they enter their “Losing people in my life and dealing with baggage, emotional and physical, left behind” phase. I used to be annoyed by the ubiquity of the premise. When a playwright grows a play from it with Morisseau’s heart and skill, though, it feels less like a trope.
— Director Josiah McCruiston has noted that the play deals in part with how we often have to go back in order to move forward. That’s true. It’s also true that while theme is important, it’s the full-blooded, rich characters that dominate Morisseau’s play. Unlike in more didactic plays, I never felt like the theme was dictating the action.
— That being said, the fact that this is the opener in Fonseca Theatre’s “Season of Healing” is a bit of a spoiler.
— Strong use of visuals by Projection Designer Caleb Clark, abetted by well-chosen musical cues, helped manage the play’s time-hopping structure.
— It’s a subtle and telling move that, entering the theater from the lobby, audience members walk directly toward a mirror.
— The production on opening night was hampered by sound issues. I’m not sure why actors in such a small space couldn’t go without microphones. It’s understandable sometimes in a musical when vocals have to be heard over the instruments, but in an intimate drama such as this, not only was the disconnect between mouth and voice distancing, but the combination of face shield and mic led to distortion, breathing sounds, and other audio distractions that got in the way rather than enhance the work of the actors. Face shields are easy to get used to. Off-putting sound isn’t.
— Lots of unearned pauses stretch the play about fifteen minutes longer than it should be. I hope it tightens up as the cast gets more performances under their belts. Still, there are very strong moments here, particularly from ShaCole as the drama approaches its climax.
–It’s wonderful to see plays where the audience is caught up in the lives of the characters on stage — one where what happens matters. As the playwright has stated:
— This town (and the country in general) needs more critics of color. I realize that there are lots of obstacles to that, including both theater and theater criticism’s history of exclusion. It also doesn’t help that there aren’t paying markets in this town so maybe it’s just us older white people who are dumb enough to write gratis. Whatever the case, it’s sad to go to any production, let alone one such as this, and know that the only people whose thoughts will be made public beyond social media comments are white. I don’t know the answer. But I’ll put this offer out again. If you are a writer of color interested in using my platform here to share your insight into what’s happening on Indianapolis-area stages, let’s talk.