The Homecoming of “River City”

Robert Thompson and Jared Giles. Photo by Bill Brymer

Robert Thompson and Jared Giles. Photo by Bill Brymer

At the opening of its sixth season, Theatre [502] has brought home a production that’s been shown around the world. “This play has been done four times but never in Louisville,” says [502]’s co-artistic director Amy Attaway. “And it’s a play about us. It’s a play about our history.”

This compelling new play, Diana Grisanti’s “River City,” which opened last weekend and continues this Friday and Saturday, October 14 and 15), follows a young mixed-race woman learning about her past. “It fictionalizes a lot of historical events that happened in Louisville during the Civil Rights Movement,” says Attaway. The storyline traces events that occurred in Louisville in the ’60s and ’70s as well as in present day.

Grisanti is one of Theatre [502]’s two playwrights-in-residence, and this play has been years in the making. “I read it for the first time maybe two years ago,” Attaway estimates, “and I’ve been following her process as she wrote new drafts and workshopped it. I’ve wanted to do this play for a long time.” The show’s positive national reception delayed its production in Louisville; it received a Rolling World Premiere from the National New Play Network and spent a year being produced in other cities. This October marks its Louisville premiere.

Remy Sisk and Rena Cherry Brown. Photo by Bill Brymer

Remy Sisk and Rena Cherry Brown. Photo by Bill Brymer

And Theatre [502] is the perfect company to bring it home. “Our mission is to perform recent and relevant theatre,” Attaway relates. “I think it’s such an important story – the story of this young woman trying to understand her history is something that everyone can relate to.” Citing Grisanti’s intelligent and witty writing, Attaway encourages everyone to attend. “It’s also really funny. The big thing to know is that it’s a story about a family,” she assures. “There’s nothing you need to prepare for; you don’t need to be an expert on the Civil Rights Movement to come see this play.”

And for those who are devoted to the Louisville theater scene, it’s exciting to see some new faces. “Five of the six cast members are people we have never worked with at Theatre [502],” Attaway says. “It’s been great to have different voices in our rehearsal room and different faces on our stage.”  

Above all, this is a brilliantly written new play about Louisville, premiering in the city to which it pays homage. Just like its national reception, audiences will undoubtedly love the play at home, as they have over the play’s opening weekend. “It’s an entertaining two hours of theater. You’ll laugh, you’ll relate to the characters,” Attaway maintains. “I think that everyone who comes to see this play will see themselves in at least one moment of it.”

Performances of “River City” continue through this weekend, Friday and Saturday, at 8 p.m. in The MeX Theater at The Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets can be purchased online at the Kentucky Center website, kentuckycenter.org, or by phone at 502.584.7777.

By Graham Pilotte, Contributing Writer