BWW Reviews: THE NACIREMA SOCIETY - Fun, Funny & Touching Romantic Comedy
In Houston, The Ensemble Theatre is proudly opening its 36th season with Pearl Cleage's THE NACIREMA SOCIETY REQUESTS THE HONOR OF YOUR PRESENCE AT A CELEBRATION OF THEIR FIRST ONE HUNDRED YEARS, often shorted to THE NACIREMA SOCIETY. The play premièred to fantastic audience reception on October 20, 2010 at ALLIANCE THEATRE at the Woodruff in Atlanta, Georgia, and The Ensemble Theatre's production makes it very easy to see why it was so well received.
THE NACIREMA SOCIETY is set in 1964 Montgomery, Alabama. While the infamous bus boycotts are nine years in the past, they are still fresh on everyone's minds. Regardless, Grace Dubose Dunbar is preparing for the 100th anniversary of The Nacirema Society's founding with an exquisite debutante ball that will feature her granddaughter, Gracie Dunbar, as the queen debutante and her best friend's grandson, Bobby Green, as the king. There are hopes that Gracie and Bobby will engage and marry; however, other romantic interests exist. Then the unveiling of a family secret threatens to up-end everything and hilarity ensues.
Eileen J. Morris has wonderfully directed The Cast, producing an entertaining and raucous evening of hearty laughs and fun. The Cast is well rehearsed and delivers each laugh-out-loud line with precise timing. The only suggestion I would make is that The Cast pause for all of the audience's laughter. They did for most of the show; however, some lines were missed due to laughter. In the long run, this did not detract from the performance and was just a minor issue.
Grace Dubose Dunbar, portrayed by Detria Marie Ward, is the epitome of 1964 socialite society. She is rigid in her expectations of societal propriety and elegance. Everything about her is perfectly poised and respectable, and Detria Marie Ward is stellar and convincingly portrays her refined character, making the few moments when the veneer slips and Grace becomes a little less structured truly delightful and altogether humorous.
As Catherine Adams Green, Grace's best friend and counterpart, Joyce Anastasia is delightful. She is a superb character actress, and pulls out all the stops portraying a remarkably comical person. It is truly incredible that the antics she plays on stage never cause her to break character and laugh at herself. Joyce Anastasia delights the audience and earns the largest and heftiest peals of laughter time and time again throughout the show.
Candice D'Meza plays Gracie Dunbar, Grace's granddaughter. Expertly conveying the bubbly spirit of a youthful teenager, Candice D'Meza is perfectly cast and heartwarming. She adroitly conveys a believable hopeless romantic that yearns to be a writer with grace and style, making the audience smile and fawn over her easily.
Playing Alpha Campbell Jackson, Bebe Wilson masterfully portrays a middle-class women who wants nothing but the best for her daughter and is willing to risk everything to obtain it. Earning laughs while providing some of the most insightful dialogue regarding the class system in 1964 African-American society (i.e. "The Dunbars are not better than us. They've only been able to read longer!"), she expertly concocts a blackmail scheme and presents a believable and sympathetic character to the audience.
Depicting Lillie Campbell Jackson, Alpha's daughter, Florence Garvey adeptly plays a woman who is both intelligent and a romantic. Her aspirations to be a doctor, regardless of her family's wealth, drive her to succeed in school and earn scholarships and grants. Florence Garvey capably depicts her drive and ambitions to the audience, earning the audience's empathy with deserved ease.
The New York Times journalist, Janet Logan as portrayed by Autumn Knight is an interesting character and serves as the perfect catalyst to set the shows uproarious climatic moments into motion. Autumn Knight knows her character's purpose and delivers a performance that is perfectly in-tune with what the audience both expects and wants her character to be.
Marie Dunbar, played by Andrea Boronell, is the proud mother of Gracie Dunbar. Marie Dunbar pristinely expresses the love and support she has for her daughter, ensuring their relationship is both tangible and heartfelt.
Derrick Brent II's Bobby Green is a romantic as well, and he skillfully sells this to the audience.
As housemaid Jessie Roberts, Angel Henson Smith is lively, fun, and believable.
For THE NACIREMA SOCIETY, James V. Thomas has created a beautiful set that is lavish and rich. It perfectly captures the opulence of 1960s wealth and is wholly realistic.
Macy Perrone's costumes are gorgeous and attractive. Each piece immaculately fits the characterizations delivered by The Cast and the time period. Furthermore, each piece is excellently styled and worthy of chic boutique and savvy department store racks, causing some Members of The audience to long to wear the garments themselves.
Clarease Rakin Yates pristinely coached The Cast in etiquette and completes the portrait of believability for the production. Each character is imbued with class, poise, and elegance, showcasing her coaching talents.
Wayne DeHart's sound design and Eric Marsh's lighting design are simplistic in nature, but help convey the story well. None of their choices seem inappropriate or detract from the show in any way.
The Ensemble Theatre's production of THE NACIREMA SOCIETY is fun, funny, and a touching romantic comedy. It is one that can be enjoyed for those looking for fluff or those looking for something a little more substantial; it all depends on how much you personally want to take away from it. The Cast and crew of this production are doing a marvelous job with Pearl Cleage's engaging and well-written script, ensuring that audiences are receiving their money's worth of entertainment and merriment.
THE NACIREMA SOCIETY runs at The Ensemble Theatre until October 21, 2012. For more information and tickets, please visit http://ensemblehouston.com/ or call (713) 520 – 0055.
Photos by David Bray Photography.
L to R: Andrea Boronell as Marie Dunbar, Candice D'Meza as Gracie Dunbar, and Detria Ward as Grace Dubose Dunbar.
L to R: Detria Ward as Grace Dubose Dunbar and Joyce Anastasia as Catherine Adams Green.
L to R: Candice D'Meza as Gracie Dunbar and Derrick Brent II as Bobby Green
L to R: Derrick Brent II as Bobby Green, Florence Garvey as Lillie Campbell Jackson, Joyce Anastasia as Catherine Adams Green, Detria Ward as Grace Dubose Dunbar, and Bebe Wilson as Alpha Campbell Jackson.