“Ripple” Triumphs over Racism with Tears of Joy—at Berkeley Rep
Christina Anderson Reveals the Fight for Recreation
by Tyler Jeffreys
Christina Anderson joins the trending Black Joy movement with her world premiere of “the ripple, the wave that carried me home” at Berkeley Rep. We see so much Black oppression porn on TV, we don’t need more oppression stories that cater to White Guilt.
Janice (resilient Christiana Clark) comes from an educated, well-off class of Black folks she calls “Thinking Blacks.” I didn’t find “Thinking Blacks” on Google, but it’s perfect. Anderson divides Black people in Beacon, Kansas into “Thinking vs. Necessity Class, who can afford only necessities. Anderson dives into conflicting Black experiences, rather than lumping people into one category.
When Janice avoids “Black Chipper” (brilliant Brianna Buckley), we feel the Thinking Class rejecting the Necessity Class. Anderson puts the conflict into action, as Janice is horrified by the young woman the program calls: “Young Chipper Ambitious Black Woman.” Buckley is hilarious in the role.
Janice makes fun of “Black Chipper,” but Buckley’s comedy depicts a woman working her way up. With wide desperate eyes, Chipper leads with her White voice, coming off as non-threatening. As the opposite of “the Angry Black Woman,” she embodies a slave era survival tactic. Sometimes you gotta choose Joy even when it’s fake.
Black Chipper dutifully leaves annoying, high-pitched voicemails, entreating Janice to return home to Kansas for a ceremony honoring her father. Later, during the 1992 Rodney King murder trial, the two opposed Black women mourn in an awkward embrace.
But Janice still must make a choice to rekindle with her neglectful political parents—or not.
Janice narrates her life from her childhood in the 70s to maturity in the 90s. Speaking directly to us, she weaves a poetic inner voice with stories of her hometown’s forbidding racist environment. Despite excessive narration, we stay onboard during dynamic scenes between Janice and her earthy, free-spirited Aunt Gail (inspiring Brianna Buckley again).
After three boys drown in a lake, trying to evade segregation, young Janice’s parents take up the long fight to integrate their community pools. Janice’s mother Helen (sassy Aneisa J. Hicks) and father Edwin (animated Ronald L. Conner) provide feel-good, hometown love. We enjoy cheering for the cute, innovative couple fighting segregation as a team.
As Janice secretly takes lessons from her mom in the Whites Only pool, they move majestically through space as if swimming in actual water. The lighting reflects moving water with a turquoise hue. We can almost hear an echo from the bigger, nicer Whites Only pool. No wonder Helen risks their lives to train there.
Under the skilled direction of Jackson Gay, we are invited into Todd Rosenthal’s haunting scenic design, including a swimming pool and comfy home that rolls out. Watch for the water!
In a “country built on selective memory,” forgiveness is painful and maybe impossible in 2022. While the police can take Black lives and TV shows racial oppression, Anderson suggests we make it easier on ourselves to take back our Joy.
By breaking down class divisions with hugs, dance, and laughter, “The Ripple…” gives us a glimpse of Black Joy, at last!
“the ripple, the wave that carried me home” by Christina Anderson, directed by Jackson Gay, at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, in association with Goodman Theatre, Chicago. Info: BerkeleyRep.org – to October 16, 2022.
Cast: Christiana Clark, Brianna Buckley, Aneisa J. Hicks, and Ronald L. Conner
Banner photo: Christiana Clark, Brianna Buckley, Ronald L. Conner, & Aneisa J. Hicks. Photos: Kevin Berne/Berkeley Repertory Theatre