Bread, a world premiere drama now playing at WaterTower Theatre in Addison through May 6, is Dallas-born and bred, features Dallas actors and the star of the show is the city itself.
Dallas native and Southern Methodist University alumna Regina Taylor, best known for her Golden Globe award-winning performance as Lilly Harper in I’ll Fly Away, has developed into an accomplished playwright. Her newest creation is set in January 2017 in Taylor’s Dallas neighborhood, Oak Cliff, and features a middle-class family trying to navigate Dallas’ racial tensions and social upheaval. At the heart of the play are two women: Ruth Baker played by Stormi Demerson and Carol Mills played by M. Denise Lee.
Ruth Baker is the matriarch of the family. Pregnant with her second son, she is extremely protective of her 17-year-old son, Jr., as he anticipates attending Southern Methodist University. She is overdue delivering her baby, fearing for her children’s well-being in the chaotic modern world. “She’s been holding onto her bundle of joy because she’s concerned about what’s happening in the world. That fear to protect her family is very real,” Demerson said. “Her fears are her son will become a statistic.”
Lee’s character is the girlfriend of Ruth’s brother-in-law, Jebediah Baker. Jebediah has just been released from prison and their arrival unearths family secrets. “Carol is one of the more together people in the play. She’s an older woman with a younger man and there are issues there,” Lee said. “She’s a little frightened of where that might lead or might not lead.”
Throughout the rehearsal process, Taylor was involved in the development of the show, explaining her perspective and tweaking lines as needed. “It’s been very informative. It’s always a blessing to have a playwright around,” Demerson said. “With a world premiere, it’s new and fresh and we get to make discoveries together.” Lee admires Taylor’s willingness to entrust her work to WaterTower Theatre. “I asked her, ‘How do you put your baby in the hands of someone else and sit back and not say anything?’ and she said, ‘The key is to find someone you trust and respect to take care of it,’” Lee said.
The play opens a conversation about the impact of and motives for gentrification and the history of certain Dallas neighborhoods. “I think what you see is that the language is very realistic. Often plays are set elsewhere, but there are names that are familiar. We talk about Sandbranch and why it doesn’t have running water,” Lee said. “When politicians come in and money changes hand, does the neighborhood really benefit?”
Lee, known for creating a series called Community Conversations, will lead a Community Conversation event about the show as a part of WaterTower Theatre’s Intersections program on April 29. The discussion will revolve around themes of the show, including neighborly responsibility. “It forces us to look at the neighborhood we live in and the neighborhoods other people live in and think about if we have a responsibility to those other neighborhoods,” Lee said. “That’s the beauty of doing a play about your city in your city. I hope it makes people see their city in the light of day.”
Demerson hopes the play will impact people long after they leave the theater. “I hope it sparks a conversation about how difficult and painful it can be for African American families to live with the fear,” Demerson said. “I hope it keeps the awareness alive. I hope it opens the conversation about what we can do.” []
On the heels of opening this world premiere show, Joanie Schultz, WaterTower Theatre’s Artistic Director, announced her second full season at the theater since becoming artistic director in January 2017. “One of the things I love about WaterTower Theatre is that it is a place where we come together,” Schultz said in a statement about the upcoming 2018-2019 season. “Be it in celebration, hope, faith, love, perseverance, or risk, the stories of this season are of people reaching out and trying to overcome divides between each other. This uplifting season is one that continues to be diverse in our presentation of classics, new work, musicals, comedies and dramas from different points of view; and each story examines the possibility of coming together.”
The five-show main stage season begins with Schultz’s 90-minute adaptation and direction of Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, running October 12 – November 4. Regional premieres include Tony Meneses’ Guadalupe in the Guest Room, playing February 22 – March 17 and Chelsea Marcantel’s Everything is Wonderful, playing April 19 – May 12. The fourth show of the season, running June 7 – 30, is a musical inspired by the true story of Josephine Monaghan, The Ballad of Little Jo by Mike Reid, Sarah Schlesinger and John Dias. The main stage season concludes with the world premiere of Origin Story by Nathan Alan Davis.
The holidays mark the return of The Great Distance Home, a festive treat conceived and directed by Kelsey Leigh Ervi, running November 23 – December 16. Other season extras include a regional premiere of Unveiled: A One Woman Play, written and performed by Rohina Malik, from June 12 – June 30 and the return of DETOUR: A Festival of New Work from January 17-20.
Additionally, Dark Circles Contemporary Dance will be a guest company in residence for a series of three performances beginning in January. Tickets to these performances will go on sale in September.
Five-play subscriptions range from $100 - $185. Learn more: WaterTowerTheatre.org