- SLICING CELEBRATION: Erikka Walsh (Raisa), Maya Jackson (Vennie), CeCelia Antoinette (MaDear), Shannon Lamb (Maydee) and Joy Lynn Jacobs (Lola) star in The Rep's production of Cheryl West's "Jar the Floor."
Cheryl West's "Jar the Floor" begins with a family's intent to celebrate matriarch Madear's 90th birthday: Four generations of women come together, standing waist high in love and discord.
Incidents from the characters' shared past surface front and center in Madear's living room. Spirits of hurt, pain, abuse, resentment — and eventually, the spirit of love — find their way in, blanketing the past in a warmth that relieves some of the bitter cold between the women.
"Jar the Floor" marks director Gilbert McCauley's eighth trip to Arkansas to direct on the Arkansas Repertory Theatre stage. He said what drew him to West's play is "having a mother, having a sister. Knowing that that relationship is so much about what this piece is about." McCauley said returning to Arkansas "feels good, actually, almost like coming home to some degree. ... And I'm excited to be working with the people we have ... so there's an understanding of it, then there's the artists that get involved with it and take it to the next level."
Those artists are CeCe Antoinette (Madear), Joy Lynn Jacobs (Lola, Madear's daughter and Maydee's mother), Shannon Lamb (Maydee), Maya Jackson (Vennie, Maydee's daughter) and Erikka Walsh (Raisa, Vennie's friend). McCauley, Lamb, Jackson and Antoinette sat at the long table at Foster's bar on the mezzanine of The Rep during a recent interview.
"Relationships — that really is very much the play," Antoinette said. "I think because it's four generations ... and we're leaving it in the time period in which it was written, [the] mid-'90s, which is a different set of social sensibilities." Antoinette said the play weaves a broad tapestry for those who pay attention to the details in the history between Madear, the matriarch, and Vennie, the youngest of the lineage.
"There is love in the discord," McCauley said, "and how you get to that is kind of this beautiful pain. In this play, love is only arrived, or that we even see it in going through the discord, in going through 'on purpose' or 'by accident,' opening up old wounds that happens as [they] interact."
Lamb echoed those thoughts. "You know that saying that 'There's no hurt like family hurt?' Those that are closest to you can hurt you the most. So, Maydee, she loves Vennie dearly, loves her dearly, and wants her to have so much that she didn't have. Maydee works her fingers to the bone to make sure that Vennie has this type of life, even though Vennie doesn't appreciate this life. And in that, Maydee literally slices her up with her words, and it's just chipping away at who she is."
Jackson acknowledged the tether between Maydee and Vennie by comparing parental bonds between mothers and daughters: "There is something inherent to the role of motherhood that makes this play possible, that makes this love and discord possible. I love my father. I love him so much, but I don't know that our relationship would withstand the kind of elasticity that has been required with the relationship with my mother. There's an alchemy that exists between women and their mothers that is like, 'I can't live with you. I can't live without you. I can't leave you.' And that's something that's clear here. These women can't live with each other. They can't lose each other. They can't leave each other. They are, for better or for worse, stuck together because of what motherhood allows."
Jackson (Vennie) talked about McCauley's direction for the play. "Gilbert has been talking to us about really respecting the words, the rhetoric that Cheryl has laid down for us. I don't so much take stock in what I say as a person in my family dynamic, but I wish ... I would have recorded what my great-grandmother said, what my grandmother said, because I did grow up with four generations of women, and I didn't realize how rare that was."
"Jar the Floor" is "cathartic connections and collisions," Jackson said, noting the way the play's odyssey is shared with its audiences. "It moves you, it begs to move you. You have to be moved; there's no way to be neutral in the show."
"Jar the Floor" runs March 29-April 16. Tickets range $30-$65, and are available at therep.org or by calling 501-378-0405.