Mud Row Written by Dominique Morisseau is a Solid Piece About Matriarchy and Family

Currently Playing Until June 19 at Cygnet Theatre  

A Blog View by Alejandra Enciso-Dardashti or my box office name at Cygnet "Alexandro Encisco"

Joy Yvonne Jones, Andréa Agosto. Photo credit: Karli Cadel Photography

I always appreciate plays that originate on a historical base or real events especially when it involves a culture different than mine. That said, Mud Row written by Dominique Morisseau, I believe has a middle ground and that is matriarchy. Women working on finding their place and holding their own in a world where we always have many hats by default and still are not considered that much.

The piece directed by Delicia Turner Sonnenberg and produced by Cygnet Theatre tells the story of four sisters of different generations. Elsie (Andréa Agosto) and Frances (Joy Yvonne Jones) lead the kin. Orphaned by the ku klux klan that lynched their mother who was a prostitute and left them the family home located in the Mud Row neighborhood in Pennsylvania. A long street with two-story houses available to the African American working class in the early 20th century. Elsie and Frances are total opposites. Elsie lives in an alternate world brushing off (or denying) her past and wanting to move up by socializing and aiming to marry a member of the "talented tenth". Frances is a fighter in the Civil Rights movement and is constantly putting her life in jeopardy, but she does not care as long as she is making way for change. Elsie gets pregnant by one of the members of her desired circle, when she decides to come clean and share her origin, the man hits her and wants nothing to do with her. After he becomes aware that she is pregnant, he promises to marry her and Elsie decides to say goodbye to her sister with a letter. In alternating scenes, we see a woman decades later going into the house in Mud Row which has been empty for the past five years due to "Grandma Elsie's passing". Regine (Marti Gobel) is a prominent marketer who is married to Davin (Rondrell McCormick) and lives in Detriot. She inherited the house and really does not want to be involved so, they are waiting on an appraisal to sell and give way to the gentrifying plans of demolishing the houses and turning them into a parking lot. As they are doing a walkthrough, they notice someone has been squatting. Cue Toshi (Rachel Cognata) and her boyfriend Tyriek (Leo Ebanks), both former credit card fraud entrepreneurs, and Toshi a former drug addict. She has been sober for 9 months and feels a new beginning coming while being in her grandmother's house for the past 3 months. She feels a connection that is giving her a new shot at life. Regine has not seen her sister in years and the memories of Toshi are not that pretty as she continuously lied and stole from her. The couples’ cross paths unknowingly until Davin runs into them at the house while waiting for the appraiser. The encounter turns violent and Toshi calls her sister on Davin's phone to meet and discuss the family home after all this time. 

The play has a nice moving rhythm that has audiences glued to their seats and asking many questions about the family relation not so much as the dynamic of it, but more if Elsie is either the mom of the 21st-century sisters or the grandma. Even though they mention "Grandma Elsie" it is unclear in the beginning. So that instead of making it confusing, makes it more interesting. Another wonderful aspect is that the story takes you through parts of the many chapters in American history like segregation and racism recounted by Elsie and Frances and connects to current happenings like gentrification with Toshi and Regine. And in my perspective, it is rounded out by universal topics like matriarchy and family. With a familial dynamic that can be recognized by many like being the older sibling and having more responsibility and discipline, versus the younger ones who seem to get a free ride and continue not only pursuing it but feeling entitled to it. The other aspect as well is, what happens to that home where all the family goes to meet? what happens when those heads of the family are no longer and the dynamic that has been set for years changes? It is a lot of food for thought in a paced and spread-out way.

Marti Gobel, Rachel Cognato. Photo Credit: Karli Cadel Photography
The cast is solid in their interpretations and run those lines with fluidity and intention. Marti Gobel is fierce as Regine, not only does she interpret each line with tone and power, but she also gives "eyes" kind of Tyra Banks's "smize", same thing. Andréa Agosto and Joy Yvonne Jones are one of San Diego's talented favorites that never disappoint. I cannot believe this play marks Andréa's Cygnet debut. Like what? 
There are many debuts in this cast like Rachel and Leo who have great chemistry on stage and deliver a powerful duo. Same with Rondrell McCormick as Davin and with his character, in particular, Regan A. McKay's costume design was definitely a statement as he wore these really cool T-shirts with phrases that you could clearly see like "Dream like Martin, Lead like Harriet, Dream like Malcolm", etc. Do not think I did not notice! McKay's costume design overall was amazing as was Brian Redfern's scenic design where there are four areas: a bedroom, stairs, living room, and porch. And it is like you are visiting your grandma in a worn, used house. He also included mud on the walls which I felt had kind of a poetic tint to it. And there is a tree that you can see in the backyard that brings roots out to the stage also metaphorically illustrating a family tie, or bond. Very detailed, very cool. It is about those creative aspects that as an audience member you truly appreciate. 
The other aspect that I fully appreciated but the audience during the performance I went to got startled every time, was a photo snap sound and projection when a scene change between decades took place and the snapshot was projected at the top of the set. I believe that was lighting designer Caroline Andrew but correct me if wrong.

More plays like this should be produced and included in the seasons where we can learn and share different, diverse cultural aspects and meet in the middle. Because all families have their middle ground. Delicia as always does a fantastic job and for this play worked with Kandace Crystal, a young talented force that came to San Diego some four years ago and is taking the theatre scene by storm in acting, leading, reading, and assistant directing, curating you name it. That is how it should be, seasoned working with new, up-and-coming talent. This is a wonderful example of how it should look like and be. 

Leo Ebanks, Rachel Cognata, Joy Yvoonne Jones, Andrea Agosto, Marti Gobel, Rondrell McCormick.
Photo Credit: Karli Cadel Photography

Something I am observing more and more is practically empty theatre spaces. I understand it is a weird time and always uncertain. The question is, what are we doing as an artistic collective to fight back against this issue? Support your local theatre! word of mouth is great, but it has to go beyond that. Invite, and take your friends and family to something you like. Let us pay it forward.

Mud Row is currently playing until June 19. For more information on performance times and surrounding activities, click here.

  • COVID-19 Policy: As of May 23, 2022, Cygnet Theatre requires that a well-fitting mask be worn indoors. Proof of vaccination or testing is not required to attend a performance.


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