Christiana Clark (Janice), Brianna Buckley (Gayle), Ronald L. Conner (Edwin), and Aneisa J. Hicks (Helen) in the world premiere production of Christina Anderson’s the ripple, the wave that carried me home. Directed by Jackson Gay. In association with Goodman Theatre. Photo by Kevin Berne/Berkeley Repertory Theatre
Christiana Clark (Janice), Brianna Buckley (Gayle), Ronald L. Conner (Edwin), and Aneisa J. Hicks (Helen) in the world premiere production of Christina Anderson’s the ripple, the wave that carried me home. Credit: Kevin Berne/Berkeley Repertory Theatre

With this world premiere, Tony-nominated playwright Christina Anderson has written a touchingly humorous and passionate play that explores racial justice, family dynamics, and the importance of forgiveness. She has captured the essence of decades of a family’s search for racial justice using only her sparkling talent, elegant direction, four excellent actors, and a creative stage set.

the ripple, the wave that carried me home, Berkeley Rep, through Oct. 16

Janice (Christiana Clark) is the only child of Black activist parents who want something that should be easily obtainable and uncomplicated — to be able to swim in any public swimming pool in their hometown of Beacon, Kansas. We follow Janice’s family — her parents, Helen (Aneisa J. Hicks) and Edwin (Ronald L. Conner), and her Aunt Gale (Brianna Buckley) — in snapshots of their lives from the 1960s through the 1990s as they pursue their quest.

As the play begins, Janice, now a grown woman living in Ohio with her own family, receives one of many phone messages from the aptly named character, “Young Chipper Ambitious Black Woman” (also acted by Brianna Buckley). Janice’s Kansas hometown is honoring her now-deceased father by naming a new public swimming pool after him. Would Janice speak at the inaugurating event?

In the one-act (almost two-hour) performance, Janice re-lives pivotal moments in her childhood. They include her mother arranging for them secretly to use the whites-only pool before hours, a heartbreaking police stop and assault, and the argument with her father that ended with a slap in her face that signaled her emotional and ideological separation from her parents. Janice must re-evaluate her childhood and her parents to decide whether to return home for the ceremony.

This nuanced, poignant drama, lightened by moments of recognition and humor, is directed by Jackson Gay and was produced in association with Chicago’s Goodman Theatre. Actors Christiana Clark and Brianna Buckley have the best roles and excelled in them. The complex, clever and movable set by Todd Rosenthal includes a swimming pool — with water. Montana Levi Blanco’s costumes nicely mirrored the 30 years of the story, and Jason Lynch’s lighting added to the drama.

The play was commissioned by The Ground Floor, Berkeley Rep’s 10-year-old center for the creation of new work. Anderson “began by thinking about [how] water related to Black Americans and who has the right to recreate,” Madeleine Oldham, the founding director of the Ground Floor, told Berkeleyside. “The beautiful play bloomed from there into a moving portrait of an activist family. … Everything is thoughtful and tied to other things. It’s so interwoven, so if you pull a thread, there goes the sweater. There is poetry to the play. She is a great undersung writer. I hope that greater recognition will come.”

the ripple, the wave that carried me home runs through Oct. 16 at Berkeley Rep’s Peet’s Theatre, 2025 Addison St., Berkeley. It’s approximately one hour and 45 minutes long, with no intermission. Proof of vaccination and mask-wearing is required. Tickets, $24-$100, can be purchased online or by calling 510-647-2949.

Emily S. Mendel

Freelancer Emily S. Mendel reviews Berkeley’s vibrant theater scene for Berkeleyside. As a native New Yorker (although now a 37-year East Bay resident), Emily grew up loving and studying theater, from...