All the Tucker women are under the same roof again and Mama is making her legendary recipe. Known simply as “The Stew,” this traditional dish is prepared for only the most special occasions. Director Malkia Stampley turns up the heat on this gripping kitchen-sink drama and brings simmering tensions to a rolling boil. Stew by Zora Howard is a 2021 Pulitzer Prize Finalist for Drama that depicts the seemingly unbreakable patterns that connect three generations of women.
Velma Austin leads the dynamic ensemble as Mama with a performance that is both hilarious and heartbreaking. One second she’s delivering unsolicited advice and punctuating each critique with a dash of her vegetable peeler. The next, she’s holding you captive with a spellbinding monologue from Richard III. Jazzma Pryor and Jasmine Cheri Rush skillfully wield Zora Howard’s intricate cross-talk as the Tucker sisters. Demetra Dee’s Lil’ Mama is the secret ingredient, and strikes a perfect bittersweet note to balance out the powerful personalities around her.
Set designer Sotirios Livaditis honors the tradition of kitchen-sink dramas with a realistic set steeped in the history of this family. The kitchen is post-it marked with notes and recipes lovingly tacked to its walls. Props by Persephone Lawrence bring the home to life with sweet memories and well-worn cookware. Austin Winter’s costume design curates comfort, as the Tucker women spend the majority of this play in their house slippers. When the story breaks from reality, so too does the design. The true-to-life elements are contrasted beautifully with a dramatic flair from Levi Wilkins’ lighting and Zack Berinstein’s original music.
Malkia Stampley’s direction maintains a brisk pace that makes this Pulitzer Finalist script sing. The actresses share lines and borrow body language, authentically reflecting moments that have had us all asking, at one point or another, “Am I turning into my mother?” In one scene, Lillian and Mama each dictate a series of instructions to their respective daughters in a laugh-out-loud harmony that would be ridiculous if it wasn’t so familiar. Stampley expertly choreographs comedic situations for big laughs and finds balance with equal moments of vulnerability and subtlety. At times, I wished I could pause the play and rewind to catch a line I missed in the cross-talk or reexamine a side-eye. Don’t be surprised if you come back for seconds.
Stew runs at Theater Wit until October 22.
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Velma Austin, Mama
Demetra Dee, Lil’ Mama
Jazzma Pryor, Lillian
Jasmine Cheri Rush, Nelly
Zora Howard, Playwright
Malkia Stampley, Director
Sotirios Livaditis, Scenic Design
Austin Winter, Costume Design
Levi Wilkins, Lighting Design
Zack Berinstein, Composer
Persephone Lawrence, Props Design
Judy Anderson, Executive Production Manager
Dusty Brown, Production Manager
Tina M. Jach, Production Stage Manager
Ayanna Wimberly, Assistant Stage Manager
Danielle Davis, Assistant Director
Photo Credit: Michael Brosilow