A deep dive into the fight for desegregation

People’s Light presents Christina Anderson’s the ripple, the wave that carried me home

3 minute read
Three Black women in modest bathing suits & sarongs dance together in a living room, washed with blue light.
Patrese D. McClain, Eunice Woods, and Shauna Miles in ‘the ripple’ at People’s Light. (Photo by Mark Garvin.)

According to reports by the CDC, Black children and teenagers are almost six times as likely to die from drowning in a swimming pool compared to white children. This fact caught my attention in a People’s Light lobby display on my way in to see the Philly-area debut of Christina Anderson’s the ripple, the wave that carried me home.

The play explores the historical fight for desegregation of swimming pools. It opens with Janice (Patrese D. McClain) in her living room in Ohio, listening to a series of increasingly desperate voicemails from Young Chipper Ambitious Black Woman (Shauna Miles), who calls from Janice’s hometown in Beacon, Kansas. When she finally returns the calls, we learn the African American Society in Beacon wishes to honor the legacy of Janice’s late father by renaming the community center swimming pool in his honor. But through a series of flashbacks, we learn why Janice is determined to keep her distance from her hometown.

A layered narrative

The first layer of the play is the fight for desegregation of pools. Janice’s father, Edwin (Nathan M. Ramsey), is the face of the movement in Beacon, with his charisma, confidence, and tenacity. Her mother, Helen (Eunice Woods), is the originator, the financing, and community organizer and connector behind the fight. The second layer of the play (and its emotional heart) is Janice’s relationship with her parents: her desire for connection, her admiration of them, her alienation from them, and her frustration at always feeling second fiddle to her parents’ love and dedication to the movement.

Directed here by Donya K. Washington, the lyrical play retains a strong emotional core despite some stumbles. The many layers and themes the playwright brings sometimes detract from its overall punch. Anderson touches on the desegregation of pools, misogynoir in the workplace, women forgotten when their husbands become the faces of a movement, childhood trauma and healing, Rodney King, police brutality, and more. Each of these merits a full-length play. Anderson effectively weaves them together, but I often wished for a deeper dive into certain themes.

Swimming through selective memory

McClain carries us forward in her captivating portrayal of Janice, both as a hopeful child and as a resentful adult lost in memory. Janice describes her parents on many occasions as a unit, but Ramsey and Woods don’t connect with each other in their roles as Edwin and Helen; the lack of chemistry between these actors makes the tight-knit partnership unbelievable. Miles shines and thrives in her dual roles of Aunt Gayle/Young Chipper Ambitious Black Woman, bringing laugh-out-loud moments with her comedic timing, whimsy, and infectious joy.

Scenic designer Sara Ryung Clement’s static living room set with a couch, chairs, and an elevated upper level sometimes makes the play feel stuck in time. Strong lighting design (Amina Alexander) and projection and sound design (Rasean Davonté Johnson) help bring life, scene changes, and a sense of time to the production.

As Edwin says early on, this country is built on selective memory. Ripple explores some of the forgotten memories of justice movements. It’s a script with many layers and questions: whose story gets told, who is remembered, and what sacrifices are made in the fight for the greater good? While ripple has some choppy waters, it’s worth diving into.

What, When, Where

the ripple, the wave that carried me home. By Christina Anderson, directed by Donya K. Washington. Through March 24, 2024, at People’s Light, 39 Conestoga Road, Malvern. (610) 644-3500 or peopleslight.org.


People’s Light is a wheelchair-accessible venue, accommodates service animals, and offers a range of audio and visual aids. There will be a relaxed performance of ripple on Sunday, March 17, at 2pm, with American Sign Language interpretation and audio description. There will be open-caption performances from March 19 through 24, 2024. Visit People’s Light’s accessibility page for more information.

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