Regina Taylor has managed to split her career between the stage and the screen. Born in Dallas, Texas and graduating from Southern Methodist University, over the years she has had a success as a film and television actress, appearing in notable films, such as Lean on Me, and TV series like I’ll Fly Away, for which she won a Golden Globe. She has also written numerous works for the stage, and has enjoyed a long term relationship with Chicago’s famed Goodman Theatre. For the past year she has served as a writer in residence at Atlanta’s Alliance Theater, and during her tenure there, she wrote the play, Magnolia, which debuted in 2009.
Taylor’s latest work, The Trinity River Plays, which opens in previews beginning Friday, November 5 at the Dallas Theater Center, marks the first time she is debuting new work in her hometown. But the engagement is anything but a homecoming for the playwright and actress who remains deeply rooted in this city. When asked if she lives in Chicago or Dallas, Taylor responds: “Yes.”
“I’m always here,” Taylor said. “I’m always coming back here. I have a lot of family, lots of ties, relationships.”
Taylor’s new play, or series of plays, is deeply rooted in this city’s identity, and the playwright recognizes that it stands on a very short list of dramatic works that deal with Dallas head on. Although it is a play that is rooted in fundamentals about life and the human condition, she says Dallas as a location is central to its ideas. As the title suggests, the play takes as one of its controlling images the Trinity River, that slight geographic boundary that historically divided Dallas’ northern and southern sectors along racial and economic boundaries.
These thematic overtones color a story about the maturation of an artist. For Taylor, it is a deeply personal tale, one inspired by her experience of her mother’s death.
“The plays came out of my contemplation, searching after the death of my mother who passed of ovarian cancer who passed away five years ago,” Taylor said. “And when you pass through a storm like that, you have an opportunity to learn, to grow and to transform.”
The Trinity River Plays is a triptych piece comprised of three individual works entitled Jar Fly, Rain, and Ghost (story). They tell the story of Iris Sparks who matures from age 17 to 34 over the course of the three works. Taylor likens the process to that of a cicada (called a “jar fly” in slang), which can live to around 17 years and which shed their skins upon full maturation. It is the story of the process of suffering in the forging of the mature soul.
“[During difficult times] things open up in terms of possibilities,” Taylor said. “How you take the hard rain in your life? Some people try to run away from it, some people stand their ground, and take the nourishment to grow. The first piece I wrote was “Rain” and that’s the heart.”
The plays are a co-production between the Dallas Theater Center and the Goodman Theatre, where they will be performed beginning in January. Debuting in Dallas, Taylor says, was important. Knowing the city is not essential to appreciating the work, she says, but local audiences will be tuned in to its subtleties.