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BWW Review: SWEET WATER TASTE at Orlando Shakes

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A thought-provoking, funny and entertaining exploration of family, race and legacy at Orlando Shakes

BWW Review: SWEET WATER TASTE at Orlando Shakes Webster's dictionary defines the word family as "a group of people who are related to each other", which on its surface may seem simple and straightforward, but as many of us can attest, often that can be the farthest from the truth. What happens when relatives share a bloodline but practically nothing else? Do the benefits of being part of a particular family extend to all members? Throw race into the mixture and a southern town with a history of discrimination and you have the formula for Gloria Bond Clunie's "serious comedy" SWEET WATER TASTE, which plays at Orlando Shakes through January 22nd.

BWW Review: SWEET WATER TASTE at Orlando Shakes SWEET WATER TASTE focuses on the Beckford family - both the white Beckfords, Charlie (Gannon McHale), his wife Elizabeth (Anne Hering) and their son Charlieboy (Andy Gion) and the black Beckfords, Elijah (Michael J Asberry), Iola (Avis-Marie Barnes) and their children Nathan (Chris Lindsay) and Bianca (Cherise James). Sharing a common great-great-grandfather, Elijah and Charlie are technically cousins, though living very different lives. In their North Carolina town, Elijah is a successful Funeral Director and Charlie a local businessman, both older and both successful in their own ways. After a medical scare where he is clinically dead but revived, Elijah decides that when he dies (for good) he deserves to be buried in the private Beckford family cemetery - one reserved only for the white Beckfords. This takes him and his family to the estate of Charlie Beckford to make his petition. As one might expect, for a white southern family (with a confederate flag blanket on their couch) this doesn't go over well. The two men argue and disagree about Elijah's request while their wives bond over gardens and shared interests, leading to some shocking events that cause both families to take stock in their lives, and ultimately come to a compromise that aims to meet both the patriarch's desires.

BWW Review: SWEET WATER TASTE at Orlando Shakes Race, family, heritage, legacy, and equal rights come through clearly in Gloria Bond Clunie's script for SWEET WATER TASTE. The dialogue is at times funny, at others quite heated, but even when confrontational, feels friendly. Ms. Clunie captures the cadence and quaint sayings of southern living in her writing, even using Charlie's mother's nightly request for a "Sweet Water Taste" (a cool drink of well water and a bite of something sweet) as a metaphor for what Elijah is looking for - a final resting place that is comfortable, clean and reflects the life he has lived. At two hours and change, the script can feel a bit repetitive at times, and could use a bit of trimming in places, but is good overall.

BWW Review: SWEET WATER TASTE at Orlando Shakes In this production, the actors portraying the Beckfords each bring something unique to the mix. Michael J Asberry's Elijah is proud, stubborn, and determined to have his due. Mr. Asberry's Elijah doesn't come across angry as much as passionate and is quite funny at certain moments. Gannon McHale (who this reviewer had the pleasure of seeing in TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE in West Hartford, CT back in 2015) plays Charlie as equally pig-headed but often in a more flustered way - almost confused at why (and how) this is happening to him. Avis-Marie Barnes and Anne Hering shine in their roles as the Beckford wives - rising above their husbands arguing to form what looks to be a lasting friendship built on common experiences. As Elijah and Iola's successful children, Nathan and Bianca, Chris Lindsay and Cherise James are great - showing the frustrations that the young can often have in these times with the previous generation. Cherise James also plays double duty as Elijah's great-great-grandmother Carrie who comes to him in the afterlife and sets (and sings) him on his mission to be buried on family land. Finally, Andy Gion, as the easygoing, sometimes confused, often drunk, Charlieboy gives a spirited performance as well.

BWW Review: SWEET WATER TASTE at Orlando Shakes SWEET WATER TASTE director Dawn Monique Williams does a fine job delivering the story through her cast. She keeps the pacing strong and even though the dialogue could seem repetitive in places, helps ensure the story progresses without being bogged down. Dr. L. Nyrobi N. Moss' costumes work well, especially Carrie's otherworldly and angelic garb. The scenic design by Ruthmarie Tenorio and Stephen Jones (who also serves as Lighting Designer) is quite effective - giving the audience a well-appointed yet warm and comfortable Beckford estate. Finally, Britt Sandusky's Sound Design adds strong punctuation to critical moments, including a thunderstorm that creates added challenge to the Beckfords' ordeal.

Overall, SWEET WATER TASTE by Orlando Shakes is a thought-provoking, funny and entertaining exploration into the definition of family, the struggles for equality that are still raging on, and the hills we are willing to die on (and be buried on afterward) to get what we feel we deserve.

BWW Review: SWEET WATER TASTE at Orlando Shakes

SWEET WATER TASTE presented by Orlando Shakes, runs at the Margeson Theater at the John and Rita Lowndes Shakespeare Center at 812 E Rollins St Orlando, FL 32803 through January 22nd. Tickets start at $35 and can be purchased by visiting www.orlandoshakes.org or calling 407-447-1700.

All Photos by Tony Firriolo / Orlando Shakes

Note: As of November 23, 2021, Orlando Shakes no longer requires a negative COVID-19 test result to attend performances or special events. Guests 5 years of age and older must now only wear a face mask when inside the building. More info at http://orlandoshakes.org/safety


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