WaterTower Theatre's Bread Links Race, Family and Dallas History Onstage

courtesy WaterTower Theatre
The world premiere of Bread, a politically-charged play by Dallas native Regina Taylor, opened at Water Tower Theatre on Monday night in Addison, Texas.

is an entertaining and gripping play about the secrets family members keep from one another. It explores the differing perspectives held by people who share much in common. And, it serves as a historical document recounting the heritage of a city. The world premiere of Bread, a politically charged play by Dallas native Regina Taylor, opened at Water Tower Theatre on Monday night in Addison. The stellar cast of six performers received a standing ovation following the emotional climax of this thought-provoking production.

It is the eve of the 18th birthday of James Junior, the first-born son of a black family living in Oak Cliff. His matriarchal mother, Ruth, now about to give birth to a second son, has raised him on bedtime stories filled with life lessons she hopes will both teach and protect him. James, recently laid off from his job as a city accountant, also intends to shield Junior from the dangers of life as a young black man with practical admonishments against hoodies and the need to be respectful at all times. Junior is the next step in their pursuit of the American Dream. He will go to Southern Methodist University on a full-ride academic scholarship, get an accounting degree and, after five years, get a job that will allow him to continue the middle-class lifestyle that has become the family’s identity.

Ruth prepares dinner for family friend Al, the well-connected son of a long-time county commissioner privy to insider information regarding local real estate. Al lacks a fully formed moral conscience and isn’t above taking advantage of neighbors for his own profit.

James’ older brother Jebediah and his girlfriend Carol also come to dinner. Jebediah has just served four months of a six-month prison term for possession of a small amount of marijuana. Circumstances have led Jebediah to disagree with James and Ruth on the injustices facing African-Americans, as he says, "Your interpretation depends on where you’re standing."

The endearing Elliot Marvin Sims’ sang, rapped and gave a totally believable performance as the obedient Junior — especially in his portrayal of his emotional connection with his mother, played by Stormi Demerson. Demerson was fierce in her determination that their son would avoid the traps that exist for a young black man. Demerson showed great tenderness when praying for Junior and her unborn son, and her rendition of "Abide in Me" was especially moving.

Calvin Scott Roberts gave subtle nuance to Al, the wanna-be entrepreneur. An angry Jebediah and passive James, played respectively by Djoré Nance and Bryan Pitts, served as great illustrations of the reactions that two men might have to their experience of injustice. With superb stage presence and a knack for comedy, M. Denise Lee played the wise Carol.

Clare Floyd Devries designed the set and Brian McDonald enhanced the production through the use of video projection showing the changes Dallas has undergone in the past 100 years or so. The play serves as a timeline of racially motivated displacement throughout the history of Dallas. Both parents grew up in Dallas, with James inheriting the house they live in. His family had been forced by eminent domain to leave the family home in Freedmen’s Town and Jebediah still wears the doorknob of that house around his neck, an apt symbol of their tie to a home they were forced from by the city. Their father had also purchased 40 acres in the Trinity River bottom, an area in unincorporated Dallas known as Sand Branch that is still home to 100 residents.

With Bread, Regina Taylor paints a vivid and realistic portrait of people and the way in which a city shapes the lives of its inhabitants.