POUNDING HER CANE on the floorboards, great-grandmother MaDear, played by Sharon Moore, exhorts her companions to “Jar the floor!” The phrase means, among other things, “raise the spirit.” The Tabia Theatre Ensemble, now celebrating its 25th year bringing African American drama to the Silicon Valley, raises the spirit of Jar the Floor—Cheryl West’s 1991 play. It’s tough to bring topics like child molestation, breast cancer and dementia to the stage. Tabia does a great job of tackling these and many other serious issues, capturing both the serious consequences of keeping family secrets without losing the good-natured humor that imbues real life.

The subjects and the humor resonated with the audience, who laughed along with boisterous, brassy Lola, played by Tabia founding member Antoinette Johnson. The intense, emotional performance of C. Kelly Wright as MayDee—a woman caught between the roles of mother, daughter and granddaughter—brought tears. The big, homey kitchen created by scenic designer Fred Sharkey includes charming details that make the stage feel like a family home.

The first act didn’t quite come together—the pacing was off in spots, and the action was slow because so much information had to be set up. The good news is that the second act delivers on the promises made in the first. All the careful, stumbling lies fall apart as unpleasant truths come tumbling out. The energy on the stage increases; at times all five women are yelling at once as they storm up and down—each woman just trying to get someone to listen to her point of view.

At the heart of Jar the Door is the endlessly complex set of interactions between mothers and daughters. All five women brought their own life experiences to their roles, bringing the characters alive in a way that made them real and relatable. Though Jar the Floor remains firmly rooted in African American culture across the generations of the 20th century, it also makes the point that the love, hate, frustration, admiration and endless challenges of mother-daughter relationships cut across racial and generational boundaries. Any woman who’s ever been a mother or a daughter will see something of herself in this show.

In the end, the play’s art mimics real life. Nothing is truly resolved, yet each character takes a step forward in understanding herself and her place in her family and her world. A sense of hope emanates from the stage, leaving the audience with a warm sense of the love and joy of family.

Jar the Floor
Friday-Saturday, 8pm Sunday, 3pm; runs thru March 6
Mexican Heritage
Theater, San Jose
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