By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
By Kyle Swenson
By David Villano
By Kyle Swenson
By John Thomason
By Michele Eve
Early in the show, fair young Israel asks Brutus, re: literature: "Shouldn't we aim high?" Brutus responds: "If you don't want to hit anything." This is so true that Mosaic's big boss, Richard Jay Simon, should get it tattooed on his forehead.
For a good play that aims low and hits everything, check out Cheryl L. West's Jar the Floor at the Women's Theatre Project. It is the opposite of pretentious: It aims to be nothing more than a day in the life of an ordinary black family with a pedestrian set of demons.
Jar the Floor takes place entirely on the 90th birthday of the family's matriarch, MaDear (Carolyn Johnson). MaDear is in the advanced stages of Alzheimer's and is looked after by her granddaughter, MayDee (Karen Stephens), a fast-rising academic. MaDear's daughter, Lola (Charlette Seward), helps out while MayDee is at work. MayDee and Lola are looking forward, with some apprehension, to the arrival of the family's youngest woman, Vennie (Lela Elam), a free-spirited musician who doesn't get home much. When she arrives, you may instinctively flinch at the barely suppressed hostility floating through the air between Vennie and her mother MayDee, and you will certainly marvel at all that is apparently not being said. It's like witnessing a truly painful case of existential constipation.
But all will come out, eventually. Over the course of the women's long and dysfunctional slog through the preparations for MaDear's party, more grievances are aired than you'd think possible, and they all arise organically. The play opened two weeks ago, and during the first weekend, Seward seemed a little uncomfortable with her lines — and this, through some special alchemy, did things for the show that having the script down pat could never have achieved. Seward is apparently a master improviser, and watching her try on the half-remembered lines and get into their motivations was revelatory. Seward inhabits her character from the marrow out, and everything she does, and almost everything about the play, thrums with the rhythms of real humanity and real family life. If Stephens has not been witness to some serious workaholism and parental condescension and if Johnson has not had plenty of hands-on experience with Alzheimer's patients, I would be very surprised.
Jar the Floor is occasionally maudlin — the histrionics of the denouement are particularly regrettable — but its small failures barely register. The slow and cautious unspooling of this family's past hurts is as affecting as West's goals are humble. She shatters no paradigms, and so far, no one has complained.