MINI REVIEW by Kati Nalbandian
Stew by Zora Howard
Regional Premiere at Gloucester Stage Company
In Gloucester, you can catch the final performances of a new play, “Stew” by Harlem-bred writer and performer Zora Howard. This regional premiere brings the 2021 Pulitzer Prize for Drama finalist to a stage here on the North Shore. The one-act production is directed by Boston’s Rosalind Bevan at Gloucester Stage Company.
The play takes place over the course of a single day, unravelling the lives of three generations of women on stage. The four women; Mama, Lillian, Nelly, and Lil Mama prepare a stew for a special “once a year” occasion at the church throughout the play. Similarities between the lives of these otherwise different characters raised questions about generational curses. The “bookend” structure of the play compliments its theme around the cyclical relationship of these women and brings new questions unanswered at the final curtain.
The props and set are realistic in nature, with a pot on the stovetop steaming – food being prepared and chopped during discussions between mother and daughter, sister to sister. The set’s colors are muted oranges and tans, pops of red- graciously complimenting the teal accents in Mama and Lillian’s costuming. The sound in this show serves as a fifth character, hinting at the world outside of the kitchen where the entirety of the play takes place.
The directed pace of the play suggests a dimensional shift mid-show, as we learn more about the secrets of each character and how they are brought to the surface. Characters buzz around the kitchen, up the stairs and throughout the set very quickly in the beginning, later slowing down. Bring to a boil, then simmer… One moment may have been a boiling-over point. There’s a bit of a foreshadowing within the set – a stain on the wall by the door.
The actors in this production clearly bonded quickly to portray this tight-knit and complex family dynamic on stage. The portrayal of Lil Mama played by Sadiyah Dyce Janai Stephens is to be noted as the actor dove into the physicality of a much younger, animated girl with authenticity and humor. As an ensemble, this production was cast very well, establishing an honest delivery of the story.
During the talkback, the questions about generational trauma came to the forefront. Is it cooked-in or cooked off? Pun intended. I asked the cast a final question, “The characters are collaboratively cooking a stew through the play, what does the stew represent to you?” The actors responded as themselves – Janelle Grace (Nelly) seeing it as a means of communal healing, Sadiyah (Lil Mama) viewing it as a baby they all must care for even when things go wrong.
With more rain in the forecast I highly suggest getting to a production of Stew before it closes on July 23, 2023! Tickets to this play and more productions at Gloucester Stage can be found at gloucesterstage.com
*If you are a Cape Ann resident, Wednesday’s are Cape Ann nights! Call the Box Office for more info
Photos by Jason Grow Photography