Another great theater experience was expected, and delivered.
By Carol Edger Germain
Already crowned the State Theater of California, and in 2023 receiving a Regional Theatre Tony Award, the Pasadena Playhouse presents another theatrical gem. Theatergoers can bank on experiencing stellar presentations, whatever their taste in theater – musicals, classics, new plays (a primary focus of the theater), and creative staging. Several recent productions have been staged by covering the seats with a temporary “floor” and seating the audience in bleachers, on the stage, or partially in the performance area, all of which have worked well, to the delight of the audience.
“Stew” by playwright Zora Howard (who attended opening night performance) comes through, stirring our emotions as the stew is stirred.
Mama (LisaGay Hamilton), Mama’s two daughters [30-something Lillian (Roslyn Ruff) and 17-year-old Nelly (Jasmine Ashanti)], and Lillian’s tween daughter, Lil’ Mama (Samantha Miller) are in the kitchen preparing stew for a church event later that day. Lillian’s other child, Junior, should join them shortly but he seems to be following the pattern of most of the men in the women’s lives.
The lower-middle-class kitchen is the hub for the women, where all things simmer, along with the stew, and also boil over or burn, again accompanied by the cycle of the stew. The bickering is constant, but so is the loving tone underlying the emotional exchanges. Outside noises are either ignored by Mama (she determines that a sound that elicits questioning reactions from the others is a tire blowing out and nothing more, or they irritate her significantly, like the incessant barking of the dog which triggers her to announce her tasty plan for its demise. The acting gene in the family runs deep, both symbolically, which we observe in the dramatic exchanges regarding life events, as well as literally, when Lil’ Mama announces that she is auditioning for the part of Queen Elizabeth in a school production of “Richard III.”
Although there was plenty of laughter from the audience throughout the play, Li’l Mama’s announcement began the funniest sequence. Mama jumps in to coach Lil’ Mama, including a hilarious impromptu repurposing of a potato as a prop, and Nelly upstages Lil’ Mama by showing off her acting chops.
Meanwhile the stew cooks, and burns, and is restarted, more vegetables are chopped, the undamaged part of the concoction is retained, and they continue the process. The accompanying discussions of life issues follow the same pattern, with the life circumstances trumping the stew for the final act. Delicious – don’t miss it!
Stew Tyler Thomas (Director) Tanya Orellana (Scenic Design) Samantha C. Jones (Costume Design) Yajayra Franco and Elizabeth Harper (Lighting Design) Elton Bradman (Sound Design and Composition) Nikki Hyde and Alyssa Escalante (Stage Manager) Dylan Elhai (Assistant Stage Manager) Ryan Bernard Tymensky, CSA (RBT Casting) Pasadena Playhouse 39 S. El Molino Pasadena, CA 91101 Through August 6 Wednesday-Friday evenings at 8:00 pm. Saturday at 2:00 pm. and 8:00 pm. Sunday at 2:00 pm. and 7:00 pm. Tickets - pasadenaplayhouse.com or call 626-356-7529
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