UNION, NJ — Premiere Stages at Kean University opened its first scheduled full season in two years with “Mud Row,” a play by 2022 Tony Award nominee Dominique Morisseau, as directed by Marshall Jones III.
The story is about the grip history has on two pairs of sisters. For one pair, it is the grip of the present, which is the early ’60s civil rights era. For the second pair, descendants of the first pair, it is the grip of the past.
Premiere Stages Producing Artistic Director John Wooten, of Glen Ridge, said, in an interview with Union County LocalSource, that the play portrays the issues of legacy.
“Legacy is important, because a life is not just what you achieve,” he said, “but what you pass down to the next generation.”
The play opens with a flashback to the black community of Mud Row, an area in the east end of West Chester, Pa., as Elsie, played beautifully by Ashley Nicole Baptiste, prepares to go on a date with a young college man. She ends up pregnant. Her foil in this and all ensuing scenes in which she appears is her sister, Frances, a civil rights activist played by Lekethia Dalcoe. Elsie and Francis foretell the struggles of Elsie’s children, sisters Regine and Toshi.
The older of these two descendants is Regine, played by Stacey Sherrell. She is a married marketing director from Philadelphia whose husband, Davin, played by Landon Woodson, is a teacher. Regine has inherited, from her grandmother, the house in which she and her sister grew up. Her sister, Toshi, a grifter who has struggled with a drug problem, is played by Alinca Hamilton. Toshi’s boyfriend, Tyriek, a young man willing to do violence, is portrayed by Malik Reed. Toshi and Tyriek are squatters in the house in question when Regine arrives on the scene for a perfunctory glance. She wants no part of the house and would be more than happy to unload it, filled as it is with unpleasant memories. But Toshi wants the house for herself and a chance to set down roots. She confronts Regine over the impending sale.
All performances are stellar, although sometimes the dialogue between Regine and Toshi sounds more like words coming from a playwright than from characters. There is also the question of why bring in the ’60s civil rights movement via Frances, because there is nothing about it that moves the plot forward or figures into the resolution between Regine and Toshi and the house in question. “Mud Row” seemed to be a much simpler play than what it is made out to be.
But what may be a real puzzle for anyone with an old-fashioned attention span is the chronology of events. When does the action we are seeing between Regine and Toshi take place? Elsie is pregnant with Regine during the civil rights movement. When we meet Regine for the first time, she is about 35, and her husband, Davin, uses a cell phone. Toshi is reminded by Tyriek, her boyfriend, that she supported her drug addiction with email scams. “Mud Row” has good performances but overall does not hold up to reasonable questions.
“Mud Row” runs through Sunday, July 31, in the Bauer Boucher Theatre Center on the Kean University main campus in Union. Performances take place Thursdays and Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 3 and 8 p.m., and Sundays at 3 p.m.
For tickets, call the box office at 908-737-7469 or visit Premiere Stages online at premierestagesatkean.com.
Assistive listening devices and sign interpretation are available on request; call 908-737-4077 at least two weeks prior to your desired performance.