Review: Gloucester Stage Serves Up a Savory STEW

By: Jul. 10, 2023
Review: Gloucester Stage Serves Up a Savory STEW
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Review: Gloucester Stage Serves Up a Savory STEW

Bring your appetite for family drama when you sit down for a cooking lesson with the Tucker women in Mama’s kitchen. Playwright Zora Howard intuitively understands the bonds between the three generations of Black women and uses them to tell a powerful story with twists and turns that we don’t always see coming.

Stew is primarily a character-driven play with each character harboring a secret. The conceit is that Mama (Cheryl D. Singleton) requests the company and assistance of her family one day out of the year to commemorate an anniversary and prepare a big spread for the church community. Eldest daughter Lillian (Breeze Leigh), her teenager Lil Mama (Sadiyah Dyce Janai Stephens), and 17-year old Nelly (Janelle Grace) are Mama’s not-so-willing sous chefs who alternately battle her and each other. Chaos is a mild term for the atmosphere, although all the yelling and disputes belie the underlying affection they share.

The spats and arguing grated on me at times and distracted from clearly knowing what they were going on about. However, I never doubted the authenticity of the dynamics among them because the actors seem to have morphed into a family. Their connection allows the audience to recognize and reflect upon similarities in their own experiences. Lil Mama’s huffing and stomping, Nelly’s protestations of being grown, and Lillian’s entitled, knowing elder may all be familiar tropes, but they are seamlessly portrayed by this trio.

Without diminishing the talent and cohesiveness of the entire ensemble, it must be said that the most delicious aspect of Stew is observing the performance of Singleton who appears to have been born into the role of Mama. Like her character showing her progeny how to play a scene from Shakespeare’s Richard III, Singleton quietly and naturally inhabits Mama without fanfare, yet with total commitment. A theatre professional with decades of experience who has appeared on many of Boston’s stages, I have enjoyed her work countless times, but her Mama rises to another level.

Rosalind Bevan is a young director with a healthy resumé of credits under her belt and an obviously promising future. In her Director’s Note in the program, she makes it clear that these women and this story are also part of her DNA and inform her work in bringing Stew to the stage. The design team (Jenna McFarland Lord, scenic; KJ Gilmer, costume; Kat C. Zhou, lighting; Aubrey Dube, sound; Emme Shaw, properties) provide the depth, color, and nuance necessary to make Stew a three-dimensional experience. All that’s missing is the aroma of Mama’s family recipe.

Photo credit: Jason Grow Photography (Cheryl D. Singleton, Sadiyah Dyce Janai Stephens, Breezy Leigh, Janelle Grace)

STEW 

Written by Zora Howard, Directed by Rosalind Bevan; Scenic Design, Jenna McFarland Lord; Costume Design, KJ Gilmer; Lighting Design, Kat C. Zhou; Sound Design, Aubrey Tube; Properties Design, Emme Shaw; Fight Consultant, Ted Hewlett; Cultural Consultant, Kira Cowan Troilo; Production Stage Manager, Pat-rice Rooney

CAST: Cheryl D. Singleton, Breezy Leigh, Janelle Grace, Sadiyah Dyce Janai Stephens; Understudies: Chris Everett, Serenity S’Rae

Performances through July 23 at Gloucester Stage, 267 East Main Street, Gloucester, MA; Box Office 978-288-4433 or info@gloucesterstage.com



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