Review: STEW at ACT Theatre

Family comes to a bubbling boil in STEW.

By: Mar. 22, 2024
Review: STEW at ACT Theatre
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Review: STEW at ACT Theatre
The cast of Stew at ACT.
Photo credit: Rosemary Dai Ross

I like to think, Dear Reader, that I don’t need to have the meaning/plot/message of a show spoon fed to me.  But sometimes, as with Zora Howard’s “Stew” currently playing at ACT, I could use a bit of clarity.  I’m not saying the show was completely confusing, not by a long shot, just a few elements in it as well as that ending that left me questioning what I just saw.  Then again, sometimes those shows can be the most fun afterwards, as my theater companion and I got to try and decipher what it meant to us.

The key to this show, as I saw it, is repetition.  Not only in the dialog and structure but, it seems, in the events of the characters’ lives.  We’re in the home of Mama (Shaunyce Omar) who lives there with her 17-year-old daughter Nelly (Varinique “V” Davis) as well as her 30-something daughter Lillian (Shermona Mitchell) who is temporarily staying there with her tween daughter Lil’ Mama (Kataka Corn) and her son Junior (who’s outside playing).  The ladies have a busy day ahead of them as Mama is making a feast for the church including her famous stew.  But as the day goes on and secrets are revealed, we begin to wonder what’s really going on and what was that loud bang outside that woke everyone up?  A tire exploding or something else?

Howard’s dialog manages to stay honest and fresh largely owing to her overlapping many lines as families do tend to talk over one another.  This makes the play feel grounded and real making her moments of an otherworldly presence feel jarring and sometimes a bit confusing.  Director Claudine Mboligikpelani Nako manages these moments well but the back and forth between them and reality sometimes sapped the pace from the piece.  But her direction of the actors in delving into their deeper issues is top notch.  And the lighting and sound design from Connie Yun and Erin Bednarz were stunners.  Literally. 

The cast is superb.  Each one managing to grab hold of their powerhouse moments in the play and run away with them.  But I must especially call out Mitchell and Omar for some riveting scenes.  Mitchell and her final coming to terms with her situation is fantastic.  And Omar is simply amazing.  I’ve seen her in musicals around town but here she’s showing off some incredible acting chops as well.  Her rendition of the scene from “Richard III” had the audience collectively holding their breaths.  And her final moments are heartbreaking. 

I can’t say the show completely blew me away … until the end.  Just a few too many moments of lagging pace.  And as for the ending, that ambiguity may have lent itself to some interesting conversations in the car ride home, but I could have used a bit more certainty.  Even doing a deep dive on the internet for other reactions to the show, not one mentioned where I thought it went.  So maybe I’m totally off base.  Hence the need for a little more spoon feeding.  And so, with my three-letter rating system, I give “Stew” at ACT a somewhat unsure YAY-.  Great performances, just not certain what they were ultimately saying.

“Stew” performs at ACT through March 31st.  For tickets or information, visit them online at www.ACTTheatre.org.




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