Olney Theatre is currently in their opening week run of their world premiere play, The Joy That Carries You. I was fortunately able to see the play before it was opened to the public. I had only read the plot and was going in somewhat blind, but I can safely say that I left completely emotionally moved.
The play is in Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab, a small traverse stage which makes the performance all the more intimate. The show centers around a queer relationship between a Black woman and a Jewish woman. It explores their own relationships, their self identity, and individual family situations.
Coming from a religious Black family, Alaia has distanced herself from her mom, and by relation her family. But now she’s forced to go home and confront them when her little brother dies, becoming a victim of Black Violence.
As per Shiri, she’s distanced herself from her Jewish heritage and is trying to navigate finding herself, supporting Alaia while not overstepping, and is learning how to rekindle her Jewish traditions with her family.
Through very real dialogue, the performance is very on the nose. It is cognizant of the fact that certain audience members may not understand the depth of the issues; in fact, that’s one of the points of concern of Shiri’s and Alaia’s relationship.
For the most part, this play is a lot of arguing. It can be overwhelming, especially if you relate to one of the characters more than others. All of them have very real flaws that others reveal, which forces you to analyze your own perspective.
As a queer Jewish woman, Shiri’s ark was scarily relatable. It felt as if I was watching me expressing my views on stage. I teared up as she was trying to explain her relationship with Judaism. I have never witnessed such a relatable understanding of my identity. It was both amazing and jarring to see.
Alaia explaining what she goes through as a Black woman was truly eye opening. I think putting it in contrast with Shiri’s situation really allowed me to understand even more. However, as mentioned, there were parts where the disparity of understanding was the issue. Much as I truly did want to understand Alaia completely, I never was able to. This made watching the arguments all the more difficult and authentic. I was well aware that I wouldn’t be able to relate but I was still frustrated that I couldn’t.
The other characters, although not the focus, were all completely developed. They weren’t just there to react to what Alaia and Shiri were doing, they were there to tell their story and how those two have shaped them. Not to mention how I could name 50 people exactly like Shiri’s parents.
Overall, it’s a remarkably honest depiction of certain two different walks of life. If you’re looking for a socially aware, relatable play and have a few hours, I would absolutely recommend watching it. The acting and minimal set were phenomenal, it’s beautifully written, and wonderfully directed. The show finishes its run on June 12, so get your tickets here and check out what else Olney Theatre is doing!