When getting ready an intricate meal, it takes time in the beginning comes collectively. Storytelling could be like that too. In Zora Howard’s “Stew,” targeted on therapeutic, dialog, and cooking, the present begins slowly, and the plot simmers ever so frivolously earlier than boiling over to its dramatic finish.
Meals and household are on the middle of this 90-minute present that premiered off-Broadway in 2020, was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for drama and is now at Gloucester Stage Firm by means of July 23. In Jenna McFarland Lord’s good set — a kitchen with yellow-flowered white curtains, orange Formica counters, and many brown wooden — Mama Tucker (Cheryl D. Singleton) makes her staple stew to feed her church household for an important day. As she sings gospel music and boils water for tea, a horrible noise exterior startles her, however Mama convinces herself and her household that somebody’s tire blew out. She’s too busy to analyze, and so are her women Nelly and Lillian and her grandchild Lil Mama.
Cheryl Singleton as Mama in “Stew” at Gloucester Stage Firm. (Courtesy Jason Develop)
Rosalind Bevan, former WBUR contributor, directs the superb bodily motion of the Tucker tribe, who, with their hair wrapped rigorously, assist Mama stir pots, wash veggies, and clear up messes whereas they squabble and fuss. Seventeen-year-old Nelly (Janelle Grace) has a person whom she loves; Lillian’s (Breezy Leigh, who not too long ago starred in Huntington’s “Pleasure & Pandemic”) husband, JR, is lacking in motion; and Mama is a widow. There’s no man of the home per se on this story, and the one different male Tucker is Lillian’s son Junior, who’s at a good friend’s home.
There’s a legacy of simply urgent on and barreling by means of life’s difficulties as an alternative of sharing the load. As time goes on, commentary on familial cyclical challenges — teen pregnancies, sad marriages, loss — are reached for or nodded to, because the characters try to speak extra about what’s ailing them. However the pressure feels too skinny to maintain the play’s center, which makes the brief manufacturing really feel lengthy. What helps is the bodily comedy of Sadiyah Dyce Janai Stephens’ Lil Mama, whose childlike stomping, huffing, and puffing is kind of convincing. Amid all of the sisterly bickering within the household, Stephens attracts the attention, eliciting laughter and empathy.
One enjoyable scene features a dose of Shakespeare. Lil Mama is auditioning for a task in “Richard III” and as soon as her household discovers it, all of them bounce in and compete over who ought to be the one to assist her. All of them repeatedly snatch the script from one another to ship the strains, and Mama makes Lil Mama ship her strains to her child, an enormous, candy potato. Nevertheless, Mama has the final line on this scene when she begins with, “If historical sorrow is most reverend, give mine the advantage of a seigniory, and let my griefs frown on the higher hand…” The ladies cease and take heed to Mama, who had repeatedly instructed them within the scene that she was the co-founder and director emeritus of Mt. Vernon Excessive Dramatic League. It looks like a glimpse of what may have been, possibly a dream unrealized, put to the aspect because of life’s circumstances.
Janelle Grace and Sadiyah Dyce Stephens tease one another in “Stew” at Gloucester Stage Firm. (Courtesy Jason Develop)
The way forward for one other individual within the Tucker clan is below risk, and the (virtually) spilling of the key that would thwart it leads to an explosive battle that ends with a tossed and damaged bottle of sizzling sauce that stains the wall. Its bang and its mess a foreshadowing.
It’s laborious to make sure which method to go when life throws its blows, and Nelly and Lillian debate the surety (or lack thereof) of their respective paths at one level. Nevertheless it’s not till the tip of Howard’s story that the viewers witnesses the largest intestine punch of all, which leaves all the household reeling from its gravity.
“Stew” runs by means of July 23 at Gloucester Stage Firm.