SHE STOOPS TO CONQUER:

THE PLAY THAT USHERED IN A NEW WAVE OF HUMOR

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

By: Quill Theatre’s Richmond Shakespeare Festival

At: Agecroft Hall & Gardens, 4305 Sulgrave Road, Richmond, VA 23221

Performances: July 7-31, 2022

Ticket Prices: $20-$33

Info: (804) 353-4241 or quilltheatre.org

Dating back to 1773, She Stoops to Conquer has long been considered one of the most popular English-language comedies. Interestingly, it was a major theatrical success by a relatively unknown playwright – Oliver Goldsmith – and the play that set Director James Ricks, then a middle school student, ablaze with a passion for live theater. It is also credited with being the source of the phrase, “ask me no questions and I’ll tell you no lies.”

The plot is a familiar one – two affluent families, the Hardcastles and the Marlows, arrange to introduce their children, Kate and Charles, with an end goal of marriage. But Kate’s spoiled, immature older half-brother Tony Lumpkin sees this as an excellent opportunity to wreak havoc of monumental proportions. Tony likes to hang out with the masses at the local pub – at one point Mr. Hardcastle say of him, disparagingly, “the only school he’ll ever go to is the ale house.” And that is precisely where he is when he intercepts his sister’s would-be suitor and his traveling companion – at the local pub – as they search for the remotely-located country home of the Hardcastle family. Tony convinces Charles that the Hardcastle estate is an inn. There ensues a “comedy of errors,” and one fascinating result is that young Charles Marlow, who has been described as educated and shy, imperiously treats his unsuspecting hosts as servants, displaying a side Kate was not expecting. Kate, however, has her own agenda, and disguises herself as a barmaid to further explore the character of her would-be suitor.

Like any good sitcom, there are subplots and counter-plots to the main theme. These include a secret love-affair between Kate’s cousin Constance and young Marlow’s friend George Hastings, Mrs. Marlow’s attempts to hide an inheritance, and Tony’s attempts to avoid an arranged marriage of his own. This simplified synopsis does not do justice to the live production. She Stoops to Conquer is neither trite nor stereotypical. Supporting characters are as interesting as leading characters – establishing a sort of social equality that was far ahead of its time.

Debra Wagoner was delightful in the role of Mrs. Hardcastle, the master (or mistress) of much of the seemingly unintended humor. In one of the latter scenes, she gets her comeuppance when her own son (Josh Mullins as Tony Lumpkin) tricks her into thinking she is lost in the wilderness. Mark Persinger as her husband, proved to be a stark contrast to Wagoner’s character and brought his own unique style of humor. Hardcastle, you see, is decidedly old-fashioned, stuck in the past and despises anything modern, while his wife (a social climber) and daughter (a sensible young woman with a mind of her own) yearn for modern fashions and are attracted by the lure of the city. Wagoner proved to be a capable antagonist, while Katy Feldhahn (Kate) was more than capable of conquering.

Josh Mullins, as Mrs. Hardcastle’s spoiled son, happily wreaked havoc at every turn. Calie Bain as Kate and Tony’s cousin (and Tony’s reluctant intended) Constance Neville was solid and dependable in a somewhat predictable and unremarkable role while Ian Page played his role close to the edge and over the top as the socially challenged Young Marlow.

That being said, She Stoops to Conquer was a delightful summer divertissement, comedically ahead of its time, pleasant and fairly well-paced, with direction by James Ricks. It just wasn’t my cup of tea, but I would certainly give it a second chance in the future.

NOTE: Unfortunately, this summer’s Shakespeare Festival took the brunt of the summer storms. Both productions at Agecroft Hall were plagued by cancellations due to weather, and, alas, the closing production of She Stoops to Conquer was no exception.

She Stoops to Conquer

By Oliver Goldsmith

Directed by James Ricks

Cast

Mrs. Hardcastle……………  Debra Wagoner

Mr. Hardcastle ……………   Mark Persinger

Tony Lumpkin ……………   Josh Mullins

Kate Hardcastle ..…………   Katy Feldhahn

Constance Neville…………   Calie Bain

Young Marlow….…………   Ian Page

George Hastings.…………    William Cardozo

Sir Charles/Landlord ……  John Cauthen

Pimple/Betty ………………..   Els Dusek

Diggory/Fellow ..…………    Alex Chapman

Roger/Jeremy .……….……    Audrey Sparrow

Production Team

Director:  James Ricks

Stage Manager: Nata Moriconi

Costume Designer: Cora Delbridge

Lighting Designer: Andrew Bonniwell

Props Designer: Emily Hicks

Music Director: Jason Marks

Choreographer: Nicole Morris-Anastasi

Dialect Coach: Harrison Runion

Assistant Stage Manager: Hope Jewell

Stage Construction: Kevin Johnson

Production Manager: James  Ricks

Run Time: About 2 ½ hours with one intermission

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

———-

Photo Credits: David Parrish Photography

THE BARBER OF MOVILLE

Molly has a PLAN – if only she could remember what it was…

The US Premiere of a New Play by Ronan Carr

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: The Firehouse, 1609 West Broad St., Richmond, RVA 23220

Performances: June 23 – July 17, 2022

Ticket Prices: $30

Info: (804) 355-2001 or firehousetheatre.org.

THE BARBER OF MOVILLE is one of the most touching plays I’ve seen all season – perhaps ever. And by touching, I mean you will need tissues. As the play opens, Molly (Katie McCall) is preparing to open up the barber shop she took over after her father died. She heats water for tea – this is, after all, Ireland – and listens to opera as she prepares to receive her first customer, a Wednesday regular. Molly’s husband Dommo (David Bridgewater) soon comes into the shop from the attached living quarters. He’s carrying two suitcases and appears surprised to see that Molly is preparing to open shop. He gently explains that is has been several years since the regular customer Molly is expecting has come into the shop.

It doesn’t take long for the audience to figure out that Molly has Alzheimer’s and despite how put-together and fit she looks, her memory appears to be rapidly deteriorating. But the couple has a Plan. That explains the suitcases: a modern rolling bag and a clunky vintage number. They are about to leave their outdated little barber shop in Derry City, Ireland for an adventure in Zurich, Switzerland, where they plan to check into a fine hotel, attend the opera, and then take Molly to see the doctor. The well-planned trip, Molly’s idea actually, has been carefully documented in Molly’s little black book as Dommo calls it – or notebook, as she insists – and the couple even has a written contract spelling out all the details of their trip. That seems a little excessive, you say? Well, not when you understand that Dommo has a round-trip ticket and Molly doesn’t…

Before leaving, the obviously loving couple takes a trip down memory lane – a tricky proposition when one’s memory has become your arch enemy. There are warm and even humorous moments as we eavesdrop on the couple’s joyous if sometimes frustrating conversation. We hear of their youthful days in art college and learn that Molly prefers Bruce Springsteen while Dommo leans towards Meatloaf, but then there is also a darker side to their story. Molly’s Aunt Christine apparently also had the same disease that is eroding Molly’s sense of self and then there is the uneasy revelation of her beloved father’s true character.

Katie McCall and David Bridgewater inhabit these characters with dignity, with faith. They infuse them with warmth, humanity, and authenticity far beyond mere acting technique. Nathaniel Shaw’s directing is also gentle, yet refuses to hide any of the details of the mental, physical, and emotional toll that Alzheimer’s can wreck on an individual and on a relationship.  A clock on the wall of the barber shop has been set to run in real time and we can see the entire play unfold in 60 minutes. At the end of that 60 minutes, Dommo rips up the contract, and I wiped my eyes. By the end, it felt as if I had been watching something sacred and private, not just watching a play for entertainment. At the end, I could go home and leave Molly and Dommo behind, but that will not be an option for everyone who sees this play. Wisely, for this run Firehouse has partnered with the Alzheimer’s Association, and scheduled several post-show talkbacks.

Set in the present, in a little town that is stuck in the past, the ambience reflects the disarray of Molly’s mind. So does Chris Raintree’s scenic design: a two-chair barber shop complete with the traditional red, white and blue pole. But the left two-thirds of the set is orderly, if a bit dated, while the right third reflects chaos – a broken mirror, cracks in the wall. So many of the pieces fit together perfectly, from Molly’s long, loose sweater and comfortable shoes (thanks to Costume designer Colin Lowrey II) to McCall’s and Bridgewater’s soft Irish accents (kudos, once again, to Dialect Coach Erica Hughes). I have never once been disappointed or felt confused when I’ve seen Hughes listed in a program as the Dialect Coach.

THE BARBER OF MOVILLE is a beautiful play that makes me want to see more of Carr’s work. It runs at the Firehouse through July 17.

THE BARBER OF MOVILLE

The US Premiere of a New Play by Ronan Carr

Directed by Nathaniel Shaw

Cast:

Molly Green ……………….. Katie McCall

Dommo Green ……………….. David Bridgewater

Production Team:

Nathaniel Shaw – Director

Chris Raintree – Scenic Designer

Colin Lowrey II – Costume Designer

Todd Labelle – Lighting and Sound Designer

Erica Hughes – Dialect Coach

Dennis Bowe – Stage Manager

Bill Sigafoos – Photographer

Performance Schedule:

Thu June 23 @ 7:30pm (preview)

Fri June 24 @ 7:30pm (preview/post show talkback)

Sat June 25 @ 7:30pm (opening)

Fri July 1 @ 7:30pm (post show talkback)

Sat July 2 @ 7:30pm

Sun July 3 @ 3pm (post show talkback)

Fri July 8 @ 7:30pm

Sat July 9 @ 7:30pm

Sun July 10 @ 3pm (post show talkback)

Fri July 15 @ 7:30pm

Sat July 16 @ 7:30pm

Sun July 17 @ 3pm (post show talkback)

Tickets: $30

Run time: 60 minutes with no intermission

The Firehouse Theatre requires all audience members to be fully vaccinated and to wear face masks inside the Firehouse.

Photo Credits: Bill Sigafoos

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MAMMA MIA!

Will the Real Dad Please Stand Up!

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: The November Theatre Arenstein Stage, 114 West Broad Street, RVA 23220

Performances: June 24 – August 7, 2022

Ticket Prices: $36-$67

Info: (804) 282-2620 or www.virginiarep.org

Some shows are meant to tell a story, some teach a lesson, some have a moral, and then there are those that are just pure and joyful entertainment. With its energetic and danceable music, familiar songs made popular in the 1970s by the group ABBA, and a stage filled with colorful costumes, throngs of dancers, and even dancing lights (thank you, Joe Doran), Mamma Mia! belongs to the latter category.

Things got off to a good start with a two or three minute Overture. The dancing lights, and upbeat music created a sense of anticipation, and then the company solidly delivered on its promise. After briefly introducing the main characters, Mamma Mia! jumped right into a large ensemble production of “Money, Money, Money” that soon led to the popular “Dancing Queen.” Not to be outdone by the women, the groomsmen and men of the ensemble danced out in flippers (swim fins) and a huge ensemble closed out the first act with a highly animated “Voulez Vous.” The second act was dominated by a series of duets with all the main characters taking turns and ended with a mini concert disguised as an extended encore. Some in the audience came prepared to party, with feather boas and animated applause. I hope the cast felt the positive energy. I know I laughed and smiled until my face hurt.

Background and Spoiler Alert

Most everyone has heard of Mamma Mia! but there are a few – like me – who had somehow never seen any version of it, neither the long-running Broadway hit show or the film series. Mamma Mia!, in spite of its Italian title, was created by a team of British artists and set on the fictitious Greek island of Kalokairi. There we find Sophie, the love-child of a former free-spirited hippie, Donna who once led a girl band, the Dynamos. Sophie is twenty and about to get married, something her mother cannot get on board with, not because she doesn’t like Sophie’s beloved, Sky, but because she doesn’t believe in marriage. To complicate things – because after all, without conflict there would be no plot – at this momentous occasion in her life, Sophie has discovered a deep need to know who her father is, so she scours her mother’s diary, uncovers three possible candidates, and without her mother’s knowledge or permission invites them all to her wedding in hopes of having her father walk her down the aisle for her traditional “white wedding.”

The cast is populated by familiar and new-to-Richmond/VaRep names and faces, and I loved them all. Hannah Jennison played bride-to-be Sophie with a credible grounded freshness. Emelie Faith Thompson gave Sophie’s mother Donna generous doses of sassiness and vulnerability and released her character’s personality in measured doses, as if well aware that too much Donna all at once was more than the average person could handle. Grey Garrett, as Donna’s friend Tanya, drew applause and cheers from the audience even before she spoke her first word, and like the glamorous, thrice-divorced auntie that most families seem to have – and who shows up to all the family celebrations – she was equally comfortable flirting with men half her age and offering wise guidance to her niece.

You are(not) the father!

Now, to return, even if only briefly, to the main plot, the three possible dads are Harry (Anthony CeFaia), Bill (Jason Krypos), and Sam (Alexander Sapp). Each had a special relationship with Donna, and Donna was never one to kiss and tell: dot, dot, dot (inside joke). Each also had a compelling reason to be revealed as Sophie’s father, but, driven by secrecy – both Donna’s reticence about her past and her own unauthorized inspection of her mother’s diary – Sophie had no DNA test results to clear up the mystery.

Good/Bad News Comes in Threes

Just as there were three possible dads, the women were cast in groups of three as well. Donna had two best friends, her former back-up singers, Tanya (Garrett) and Rosie (Catrina Brenae), and so did Sophie: Ali (Havy Nguyen) and Lisa (Jana Prentiss). Even Sky (Micah Cook on opening night; a character who was never as fully developed as the women) had two close friends, the flirtatious Pepper (Connor Macchi) and the more dependable Eddie (Johnny Reardon), both of whom worked at the taverna (a Greek restaurant, this one included a B&B) built and run by Sophie’s mother Donna (Thompson).

It comes as no surprise that the planned wedding does not go on as scheduled, but there is a surprise wedding (I guess you don’t need a license in Greece, at least not in musical Greece) as well as a surprise romance, which comes as no surprise.

Encore and Finale

One of the best parts of Mamma Mia!  is the encore and finale. I noticed Donna and a few others disappear during the final bows, and sure enough Donna and the Dynamos reappeared in brightly colored, ABBA-inspired costumes in red, orange, and yellow – exaggerated bell bottoms, futuristic extended shoulders, and blinged out to the max – only to be joined by the Dads wearing matching outfits and silver platform boots. The company sent the audience out dancing and singing along to “Mamma Mia!” “Dancing Queen,” and more. Mamma Mia! may or may not be perfect, but it is perfectly suited to these times. For some audience members, it was the first time out to a live show since “the time before,” and for others it was a much-needed release after months of disturbing breaking news reports. First produced onstage in 1999, the music is popular enough to span generations, popular enough to be familiar, and old enough to not stir up any controversy or salt any open wounds – it’s a feel-good musical through and through.

With a large cast and lots of choreography, the set was kept simple with a minimalist rotating design representing Donna’s taverna – which looked somewhat Spanish or Moorish to my untrained eye. Most of the visual effects were wisely focused on the costumes and lighting. The band was placed in the orchestra pit, instead of hidden behind the scrim, adding even more of a Broadway, big-stage feeling. The direction (Happy Mahaney), music (Sandy Dacus), and choreography (Ashleigh King) appeared to work together seamlessly, maintaining a fast pace, a high level of energy, and drawing the audience in willingly. A plot was hardly necessary, but there is an actual story-line, and a sub-plot that make sense and is easy to follow. Mamma Mia! hits the target as a summer musical.

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

MAMMA MIA!

Music and Lyrics by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus

and some songs with Stig Anderson

Book by Catherine Johnson

Originally conceived by Judy Crayner

Direction by Happy Mahaney

Cast

Sophie Sheridan          —–      Hannah Jennison

Ali                                  —–      Havy Nguyen

Lisa                              —–      Jana Prentiss

Donna Sheridan          —–      Emelie Faith Thompson

Tanya                          —–      Grey Garrett

Rosie                           —–      Catrina Brenae

Sky (through 6/26)    —–      Micah Cook

Sky (beginning 6/29) —–      Donathan Arnold

Pepper                         —–      Connor Macchi

Eddie                            —–      Johnny Reardon

Harry Bright                —–      Anthony CeFala

Bill Austin                    —–      Jason Kypros

Sam Carmichael         —–      Alexander Sapp

Ensemble                    —–      Mikaela Craft, Emily Dandridge, Paul Dandridge,

                                          Janiece Deveaux, Evelyn Dumeer, Jianna Hurt,

                                          Brandon McKinney, Chandler James Pettus, David Ramirez,

                                          Shannon Schilstra, Caleb Wade, Kayla Xavier

Creative Team

Scenic Design                          – Josafath Reynoso

Costume Design                      – Sue Griffin and Marcia Miller Hailey

Lighting Design                       – Joe Doran

Sound Design                           – Jacob Mishler

Stage Management                – Justin Janke

Music Direction                       – Sandy Dacus

Choreography                          – Ashleigh King

Direction                                  – Happy Mahaney

Band

Keyboard 1/Conductor       – Sandy Dacus

Keyboard 2                              – Leilani Fenick

Keyboard 3                              – David C. Robbins, Joy Weaver*

Keyboard 4                              – Ian Krauss

Bass                                          – Jeff Smick

Guitar 1                                    – Ed Drake

Guitar 2                                   – Hannon D. Lane, Rinatt Montoya*

Drums/Percussion              – Bentley Cobb, Joe Lubman*

*(substituting at select performances)

Run Time: 2 hours and 20 minutes including one 15-minute intermission

Ticket Information

Box Office: 804-282-2620

http://www.virginiarep.org

Tickets range from $36 – $67

Discounted Group Rates and Rush tickets available.

Photo Credits: Aaron Sutten

———-

Updated Virginia Rep COVID Guidelines

Masks, covering the face and nose, are required for all patrons while inside VaRep venues, lobbies and restrooms except when actively eating or drinking.

(Note: on opening night, the bar was open for the first time since the start of the pandemic, with canned and bottle drinks and snacks.)

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FIREFLIES

“Beautiful dreamer, wake unto me…”

or “You cain’t unpeck a fig.”

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

CAT – Chamberlayne Actor’s Theatre

At: HATTheatre, 1124 Westbriar Dr., Richmond, VA 23238

Performances: June 10-12 & June 17-19, 2022

Ticket Prices: $24.00 General Admission. $20.00 Seniors

Info: http://www.cattheatre.com

I usually avoid words like charming and endearing, but in the case of Fireflies those are the words that seem most appropriate. Fireflies is a story of opening up and letting go, and it is a love story between two mature people that is not played as a spoof or a sitcom. Fireflies, the insect, represent love; their soft luminescence is part of their mating ritual, and they remind us of summer nights as children, chasing fireflies and trying to capture them in a jar to make their elusive light last. The symbolism of fireflies is indirectly alluded to throughout the play, but it’s there.

Ms. Eleanor Bannister (played by Jean Roberts) is a retired teacher in the small Texas town of Groverdell. She never married, and has settled into a comfortable life of respectability. Eleanor still lives in the house she grew up in, and rents the “honeymoon cottage” her father built for her that was never used for its intended purpose. At times, Roberts seems to channel the spirit of the late Bea Arthur. Ms. Grace Bodell (played by Linda Snyder) is Eleanor’s loyal, caring – read “nosy” – friend and neighbor, an archetype familiar to the residents of every small town or cul-de-sac. It is a role Snyder approaches with just the right balance of humor and temperance. One day a charming drifter appears and shakes up Eleanor’s routine, pulling her out of her comfort zone and, in the process, gives the town something to talk about. William Henry brings the necessary tension and mystery to his portrayal of Abel Brown, keeping us interested and never quite sure if he is who he says he is. There is always a lingering question. . .

Abel Brown fixes a hole in the roof of Eleanor’s rental property, and in the process opens Eleanor’s heart to the possibility of romance. In the relatively short span of about a week, spread over five acts and two scenes, we are drawn willingly into Eleanor’s unfamiliar and unexpected journey and get to experience familiarity with her plight, longing for adventure, and recognition of her dilemma.

In addition to fixing the roof and doing other repairs, Abel Brown – whose character seems to require being referred to by his full name – serenades Eleanor by playing “Beautiful Dreamer” on her father’s antique violin, and impresses her with his peanut butter and jelly sandwich-making skills. The beauty of FIREFLIES lies largely in its simplicity. Eleanor and Grace chat over homemade cake and a glass of milk and comment on the weather, the state of Eleanor’s house, and Grace’s “Sunday hair.”

The play is set in Eleanor’s kitchen and the atmosphere is dominated by the easy banter between the two friends. The natural pacing and familiarity of the scenes makes the electricity sizzle all the more when Abel Brown makes his appearances and introduces much-needed excitement and tension. The Sunday I attended, the space had been affected by a summer storm that left the house lights and air-conditioning off, providing an unintended touch of authenticity to the Texas summer scenes.

Director Ann Davis kept the pace sultry but interesting, and seemed to have a genuine connection with the author’s vision for this show. A second-act appearance by Alvino Medina as Eugene, the local sheriff’s deputy – and Eleanor’s former student –  may have been necessary from the author’s point of view, but did not seem to quite fit in with the rhythm already established by Roberts, Henry, and Snyder. Nevertheless, Fireflies is a delightful and heartwarming story with a few unexpected twists and turns that upset the flow of predictability and makes for a satisfying evening of theater.

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

FIREFLIES

Written by Matthew Barber

Directed by Ann Davis

Cast

Jean Roberts as Eleanor Bannister

Linda Snyder as Grace Bodell

William Henry as Abel Brown

Alvino Medina as Eugene Claymire

Creative Design Team

Director – Ann Davis

Stage Manager – Brandy Stevens

Set Designer – Scott Bergman

Costume Designer – Sheila Russ

Lighting Designer – Chris Stepp

Properties Master – Ellie Wilder

Sound Designer – Buddy Bishop

Backstage Crew – Ashton Lee & Dinah Lee S. Mason

Dates

Fri. Jun 10th 2022, 8:00 pm

Sat. Jun 11th 2022, 8:00 pm

Sun. Jun 12th 2022, 2:30 pm

Fri. Jun 17th 2022, 8:00 pm

Sat. Jun 18th 2022, 8:00 pm

Sun. Jun 19th 2022, 2:30 pm

Ticket Information

www.cattheatre.com

Ticket prices range from $24.00 General Admission. $20.00 Seniors.

Run Time

The play runs about 2 hours with 1 intermission

Photo Credits: Daryll Morgan Studios

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BOOTYCANDY:

It Probably Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Means

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

Produced by: TheatreLAB

At: The Basement, 300 E. Broad Street, RVA 23219

Performances: June 9-18, 2022

Ticket Prices: $20 General Admission; $10 Teachers & Students

Info: (804) 349-7616 or https://tlab-internet.choicecrm.net/templates/TLAB/#/events

Robert O’Hara’s BOOTYCANDY is a “semi-biographical subversive comedy” performed as a series of non-linear vignettes. The central character is Sutter and the central premise is Sutter’s journey growing up black and gay. It is hilarious, it is touching, it is relatable across genders, generations, and sexual orientations, and it is an exemplar of contemporary Africanist story-telling. It is, without a doubt, one of my favorite shows of the season – and I see my fair share of shows.

Todd Patterson shines in the lead role as Sutter. The five actors are identified only as Actor One, Actor Two, etc., and all but Patterson take on a number of different roles in Sutter’s life. Patterson dances between each scene – indeed, his “grandmother” and other relatives request that he “do that step Michael Jackson liked to do.” The playwright, O’Hara, has specified that Jackson’s music be used throughout, and the music of Michael Jackson, Prince, and perhaps a few others energizes the space from the moment you walk through The Basement doors.

Patterson strips for us, and dances with a manic energy that reflects his character’s inner landscape. But as much as I was impressed by Patterson’s performance, this is truly an ensemble production – starting with the symbiotic directing team of Deejay Gray and Katrinah Carol Lewis. I’ve seen each of these actors in several productions, and this one cast them each in a new light and presented them with new challenges.

Dylan Jones and Zakiyyah Jackson hold down most of the female roles in Sutter’s life. Both play his mother, at different ages, as well as aunties, friends, a sister, and church ladies. In one scene they portray a quartet of women gossiping on the telephone, highlighted by rapid costume changes but my favorite is their second act “non-committal ceremony,” a nasty same-sex divorce officiated by a Zen-like Cashwell. This scene is the embodiment of the adage, “same sex, same problems!”

Durron Marquis Tyre transforms into several characters, but my favorites are the right reverend who comes out in a sermon delivered to his outraged congregation. Instead of coming out of the closet, he emerges from behind his pulpit to reveal fishnet stockings, blinged out silver slingback heels, a wig, and finally a clingy little red dress and matching lipstick. This is where Jones and Jackson begin their magic as they subtly change from gossip-mongers to staunch supporters.

In the second act, Tyre portrays Sutter’s grandmother who offers him comfort in a time of need as she slyly extracts some cash to tuck into her bosom and a delivery of forbidden soul food. For a moment, I thought Tyre had been speaking with my own late grandmother to develop this character because his mannerisms and speech brought back memories directly from my own past. And that is part of the beauty of this play: it is relatable. In a post-show talkback the day I saw it, everyone who spoke found some point of connection. The scene where Sutter realizes he is under stress is a turning point – he stops the show, has a verbal interaction with the Stage Manager, Crimson Piazza, and the tone and tenor of the play shifts. This is , undoubtedly, one of the author’s genuine auto-biographical moments. Its poignancy highlights the humorous aspects of the previous scenes, and reminds us that often laughter is the only things that helps us make it through the tough or uncertain times.

And of course I cannot forget Dixon Cashwell – the only white guy in the cast. He plays several characters, but my favorites are his portrayal of a clueless conference facilitator for the scene that closes the first act. Cashwell’s character strolls obliviously into a minefield of micro-aggressions that elicit yelps of incredulity from the cast as well as at least one audience member. In other scenes, Cashwell becomes a gay-curious male sharing an uncomfortable relationship with his brother-in-law, and has a spellbinding turn as an intoxicated man at a lonely bus stop at 3:00 AM who amazingly talks himself out of being mugged.

There are a number of little things that make BOOTYCANDY as close to perfect as it can possibly get. The subject of the women’s telephone scene is the name one young mother has chosen for her baby girl: Genitalia! It is a spoof of the unique names and exotic naming conventions of Black American families and a nod to the sort of urban legends many of us educators have passed down through the decades: the little boy named Shi-Thead, the little girls named Vagina, Clitoris, and Female (pronounced Fah-MA-ley), or the twins named Orangejello and Lemonjello (pronounced a-RON-zhello and le-MON-zhello).

By the time you read this, BOOTYCANDY may have ended its all-too-brief run, but just in case, consider this a SPOILER ALERT: BOOTYCANDY does not refer to a sexually attractive booty or a hot gay guy. Quite innocently – and oddly – it is the word the young Sutter’s mother uses to refer to his penis, and an excellent advertisement for teaching children the real words for their body parts.

I haven’t laughed so hard or so often I the theater in recent memory. In the words of one viewer, BOOTYCANDY is no entry-level theater, meaning it is not linear or predictable, and there is no happily-ever-after fairytale conclusion. In the mind of this reviewer, that is what makes it so special.

THE CAST

Actor One ………………………….        Dylan Jones

Actor Two ……………………….…        Todd Patterson

Actor Three …………..…………..       Zakiyyah Jackson

Actor Four ………………………….       Durron Marquis Tyre

Actor Five ………………………….       Dixon Cashwell

THE TEAM

Direction: Deejay Gray & Katrinah Carol Lewis

Scenic Design: Deejay Gray

Projection Design: Dasia Gregg

Lighting Design: Michael Jarett

Costume Design: Nia Safarr Banks

Sound Design: Kelsey Cordrey

Properties Design: Kathy O’Kane Kreutzer

Production Stage Management: Crimson Piazza

THE SCHEDULE

Thursday, June 9 at 7:30 [Preview Performance]

Friday, June 10 at 7:30 [Opening Night]

Saturday, June 11 at 7:30 [Post-Show Dialogue]

Sunday, June 12 at 7:30

Wednesday, June 15 at 7:30 [ADDED SHOW]

Thursday, June 16 at 7:30

Friday, June 17 at 7:30

Saturday, June 18 at 7:30 [Closing Night]

NOTE: All performances are at 7:30pm at The Basement:

300 East Broad Street, Richmond VA 23219

THE TICKETS

$20 – General Admission

$10 – Teachers & Students

LINK: https://tlab-internet.choicecrm.net/templates/TLAB/#/events

*PROOF OF VACCINATION / A NEGATIVE COVID TEST REQUIRED* The Basement is a fully vaccinated venue. Proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test (within 48 hours of the performance) are required upon entry. For the safety of our artists and audiences, masks must be worn while at the theatre. Thank you for keeping our community safe!

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

———-

Photo Credits: Photos by Tom Topinka

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COLLECTIVE RAGE: A Play in 5 Betties

. . .Imagine the Arctic as a Pussy; It’s Sort of Like That

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: Richmond Triangle Players at the Robert B. Moss Theatre, 1300 Altamont Ave, RVA 23230

Performances: June 8 – July 2, 2022

Ticket Prices: $30-35; $10 for Students.

Info: (804) 346-8113 or rtriangle.org

In Essence, A Queer and Occasionally Hazardous Exploration; Do You Remember When You Were In Middle School And You Read About Shackleton And How He Explored The Antarctic?:

Imagine The Antarctic As a Pussy And It’s Sort Of Like That

There are 5 characters in COLLECTIVE RAGE and they are all named Betty. Betty #1, Lenaya Van Driesen) is married to a man of wealth who has no time for her; Betty #2, Nora Ogunleye, is in a sexless marriage; Betty #3, Zoe Cotzias, is a celebrity lesbian who works at Sephora; Betty #4, August Hundley, is a sensitive queer woman with a truck and a crush on Betty #3; and Betty #5, with Rachel Garmon-Williams subbing for Kasey Brett is a non-binary male presenting female who runs a boxing gym – and owns a truck.

After Betties #2 and #3 attend a boring dinner party given by Betty #1, Betty #3 throws her own dinner party, where she gives the shy and friendless Betty #2 a hand mirror and invites her to use it to look at her pussy. This act opens up a whole new world for Betty #2 who spends the rest of the play on a journey of self-exploration and empowerment.

Betty #3 attends a play with a friend, becomes enamored of the “thea-tah” and decides to devise a play of her own. Betty’s play involves a prologue, a wall, a lion, and moonshine; it borrows blindly and liberally from the mechanicals’ play-within-a-play in Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream – whose title Betty repeatedly butchers.

When they all get together to rehearse for “the thea-tah,” the ensuing chaos both defines and defies their collective rage. Set in New York in the present  and first performed in 2016, COLLECTIVE RAGE is described as a “lesbian/bi-curious/genderqueer/Shakespearean comedy for everyone.” COLLECTIVE RAGE feels like a fusion of satire, cabaret, and improv. It’s hilarious and touching at the same time. There’s a cheating husband, a contrast between femme and butch, stereotypes of lesbians with trucks, and all the elements are used to explore growth, individual and collective, in multiples areas of life.

Directed seamlessly by Chelsea Burke, COLLECTIVE RAGE is more than just a niche production; it’s relatable across economic, ethnic, and gender boundaries. Van Driesen is sharp and dangerously edgy, both in her verbal delivery and her physical presentation. Ogunleye is endearing in her eurotophobia (yes, there is a word that means fear of one’s vagina or female genitalia). Cotzias aptly and appealingly encapsulates every video of a vacuous influencer I’ve ever seen. Hundley nailed their portrayal of a caring but insecure character, while Garmon-Williams uses body language and physicality on equal footing with words. COLLECTIVE RAGE offers the viewer options: you can enjoy it as a comedy, as social commentary, or both.

———-

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

———-

COLLECTICE RAGE: A Play in 5 Betties

Written by Jen Silverman

Directed by Chelsea Burke

CAST:

Betty #1 …………………………………….  Lanaya Van Driesen

Betty #2 …………………………………….  Nora Ogunleye

Betty #3 …………………………………….  Zoe Cotzias

Betty #4 …………………………………….  August Hundley

Betty #5 …………………………………….  Kasey Britt

Understudies

For Betty #1 ……………………………………. Amanda Spellman

For Betties #2 & #3………………………….. Leanna Hicks

For Betties #4 & #5 …………………………. Rachel-Garmon-Williams

CREATIVE TEAM:

Costume, Hair & Make-Up Design      – Dasia Gregg

Costume, Hair and Make-up Design   – Carolann Corcoran

Lighting Design                                   – Deryn Gabor

Sound Design                                      – Candace Hudert

Intimacy Choreographer                    – Stephanie Tippi Hart

Properties Design                               – Tim Moehring

Assistant Director                               – Katie Fitzgerald

Technical Director                              – Tom Holt

Production Stage Manager                – Lauren Langston

Sound Design                                      – Candace Hudert

Intimacy Choreographer                    – Stephanie Tippi Hart

Properties Design                               – Tim Moehring

Photo Credits: No production photos available at the time of publication

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EVERYBODY

Everybody Has to Die but Nobody Wants to Make This Journey Alone

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: Theatre Gym, 114 West Broad Street, Richmond, VA 23220

Performances: June 2-19, 2022

Ticket Prices: $40

Info: (804) 282-2620 or https://tickets.va-rep.org/events

EVERYBODY is a modern play about an age-old problem: death. Written by award-winning playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, it is a morality play based – with few significant changes – on a 15th century morality play, Everyman, believed to be one of the earliest recorded plays in the English language. Set in the here and now, EVERYBODYhas been revamped to reflect today’s politics, belief systems, and world views and to be inclusive of current racial, religious, and gender concerns.

The morality play is a once-popular genre designed to teach a lesson – in this case, how to live better and be a better person in general – and features characters who are personifications of abstract qualities. In EVERYBODY the original qualities of Fellowship, Kindred, Goods, Discretion, Five Wits, and Knowledge have been rebranded as Friendship, Kinship, Stuff, Mind, Five Senses, and Understanding. With a few exceptions, the stellar cast of talented actors (Debra Wagoner, Jacqueline Jones, Audra Honaker, Jamar Jones, Katrinah Carol Lewis, Maggie Roop, Tyer Stevens, Desirée Dabney, alternate Tatjana Shields, and supporting actors Keeley Maddux and Charlotte Hall) must memorize the entire play, because at each performance the roles are chosen by lottery at the start of the play. Among the fixed roles, Wagoner appears as the Usher, God, and Understanding, Jacqueline Jones plays Death, and Dabney is Love.

With Debra Wagoner providing much of the narration, actors emerging from the audience and entering and exiting from the center aisle, and projected titles, there is a sense of controlled chaos – an appropriate response, one might concede, to the unexpected summoning of God and the unwelcome appearance of Death. God has summoned Death to bring Everybody for an accounting. But since it’s today, the accounting takes the form of a final presentation – you know, like a PowerPoint presentation. Feeling unprepared, Everybody negotiates for more time, and goes looking for someone willing to accompany them on this journey. Friendship and Kinship are the first to excuse themselves, providing a list of reasons ranging from the valid to the humorous. Even Stuff, decked out in a poncho-like garment covered with, well, a collection of stuff, makes a fast exit, while Mind and the Five Senses initially promise to accompany Everybody to the grave but both flake out at the last minute. In the end, it is only Love who completes the journey with Everybody – but only after making them strip down and perform a humiliating act of contrition (involving the repetition of the confession, “my body is just meat”).

EVERYBODY is performed on a nearly bare black stage, with minimal props and costumes, and disconcerting voice over scenes that occur in complete blackness. It is a play of universal themes leading to an inevitable conclusion, performed in earnestness by a fully committed cast. I particularly enjoyed the simultaneously funny and terrifying Skeleton Dance and there is no denying that Debra Wagoner and Jacqueline Jones fully inhabited their roles However, much like Zombie Life (Firehouse, August 2021, https://jdldancesrva.com/2021/08/26/the-zombie-life/) which I heard more than once actor compare to EVERYBODY, I can only admire it from a detached distance; it just isn’t my cup of tea. But if well-crafted existentialism and humor-infused treatises on the meaning of life excite you, you can – and should – see EVERYBODY through June 19.

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

EVERYBODY

By Branden Jacobs-Jenkins

Directed by Rusty Wilson

CAST

Usher/God/Understanding     Debra Wagoner

Death                                     Jacqueline Jones

Somebody                               Audra Honaker

Somebody                               Jamar Jones

Somebody                               Katrinah Carol Lewis

Somebody                               Maggie Roop

Somebody                               Tyler Stevens

Somebody alternate           Tatjana Shields

Girl/Time                                Keeley Maddux

Girl/Time                                Charlotte Hall

Love                                         Desirée Dabney

Voice-Over Artists               Juliana Caycedo

                                                Anne Michelle Forbes

                                                Tyandria Jaaber

                                                Elle Meerovich

                                                 Hannah Hoffert

CREATIVE TEAM:

Director                                    Rusty Wilson

Assistant Director                   Tim Glover

Scenic Designer                       Emily Hake Massie

Costume Designer                   Sarah Grady

Lighting Designer                    Alleigh Scantling

Properties Designer                Ellie Wilder

Scenic Charge                          Emily Hake Massie

Sound Designer                       Joey Luck

Technical Director                   Chris Foote

Stage Manager                        Maggie Higginbotham

Production Manager              Alleigh Scantling

Skeleton Dance Choreographer Laine Satterfield

Puppet Designer                     Kylie Clark

Photos by                                Jay Paul

UPDATED POLICIES: Virginia Rep has been following local, state, and federal health guidelines, and keeping a close eye on the policies of peer theatre companies regionally and nationally. As a result, proof of vaccination is no longer required. Masks, covering the face and nose, are required for all patrons while inside all VaRep venues, lobbies, and restrooms. At this time, no food or drink is allowed in the theatre.

Photo Credits: Jay Paul

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BEEHIVE: THE ’60s MUSICAL

Jukebox Full of Girl Groups and Phenomenal Female Vocalists Comes Alive on Stage

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: The November Theatre Arenstein Stage, 114 West Broad Street, RVA 23220

Performances: April 8 – May 15, 2022

Ticket Prices: $36-$67.

Info: (804) 282-2620 or www.virginiarep.org

Competing harmonies emerged from a gigantic jukebox mockup at the start of Beehive: the ‘60s Musical: “It’s My Party [and I’ll cry if I want to]” versus “My Boyfriend’s Back [and your gonna be in trouble.” Before you knew it, the audience was pulled into a bit of interaction with one of my childhood favorites, “The  Name Game” and was also invited to sing along to The Ronette’s “Be My Baby.” There was also an entertaining pre-show slide presentation of 1960s trivia to get the audience warmed up.

Beehive: the ‘60s Musical is not so much a musical as a retrospective concert of 1960s hits by women and girl groups: “Proud Mary,” “One Fine Day,” “A Natural Woman,” “Son of a Preacher Man,” “To Sir, With Love,” “Me and Bobby McGee,” all transported those of us of a certain age back in time. Decked out in glittery shirts, kitten heels, go go boots (I remember craving a pair of those in intermediate school), and mini-skirts Nicole Baggesen, Madison Paige Buck, Jianna Hurt, Temperance Jones,  Mallory Keane, and Awa Sal Secka recreated one hit after another.

Costumes, hair styles, props, and set elements provided visual and historical interest. Pedal-pushers (i.e. short pants), beehive hairdos, transistor radios, and pink wall-papered bedrooms were all pulled out of the designers’ magical musical hats. And when specific stars were referenced the details were even more detailed. There was no mistaking Aretha Franklin’s elegant gown, Tina Turner’s shimmy dress, or Janis Joplin’s fringes and beads – and bottle of Southern Comfort.

The ensemble started out looking like a rainbow, each wearing a different color – purple, pink, blue, golden yellow, orange, and green – with their little heels and beehive hairdos but changed clothes and hairstyles as they progressed through the decade. By the finale, they were wearing afros and dashikis or long free-flowing hair and paisley pants or print dresses. The decades dances were acknowledged as well, including the Pony, the Jerk, the Mashed Potato, the Twist, the Swim, and the Monkey.

The cast, thanks to the wise decisions of the creator Larry Gallagher, director/choreographer Leslie Owens-Harrington, and musical director Billy Dye, the cast did not so much impersonate the formidable female vocalists of the 1960s as they paid homage to them. To do otherwise might not have ended well.

So Hurt’s rendition of Tina Turner’s songs, included a lot of hair flinging and shimmy dancing, but not a direct impersonation of the star’s million dollar legs. (They were actually insured for $3.2 million.) Aretha Franklin’s songs were given a heartfelt rendition by Secka that reflected her gospel roots, and Baggesen’s Janis Joplin set was honestly painful and painfully honest, while simultaneously and somewhat irreverently humorous..

Thanks to colorful – and frequent – costume changes and an abundance of choreography, the show was well-paced and visually compelling as well as musically comprehensive. A photo montage reminded us of the somber reality of the 1960s as well, including PG-rated scenes of the assassination of President Kennedy, the war in Vietnam, and the Civil Rights Movement. All-in-all, Beehive, the musical was 90 minutes of pure foot-tapping joy and unadulterated entertainment – for my generation. I do wonder what younger viewers might think of it.

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

BEEHIVE

Created by Larry Gallagher

Direction and Choreography by Leslie Owens-Harrington

Musical Direction by Billy Dye

Cast

Wanda – Jianna Hurt

Pattie – Madison Paige Buck

Alison – Mallory Keene

Laura – Nicole Baggesen

Jasmine – Temperance Jones

Gina – Awa Sal Secka

Band

Piano/Conductor – Shellie Johnson

Tenor Sax – Deb Saidel

Trumpet, Tambourine – Craig Taylor

Guitar – Hannon D. Lane

Bass – Mary Fender O’Brien

Drum Set – Paige Miller

Direction & Design

Direction/Choreography by Leslie Owens-Harrington

Music Direction by Billy Dye

Scenic Design by Mercedes Schaum and Amy Bale

Costume Design by Sue Griffin and Marcia Miller Hailey

Lighting Design by Lynne M. Hartman

Sound and Projection Design by Jacob Mishler

Stage Management by Hannah Hoffert

Wig Design by Kevin S. Foster, II

Run Time: 90 minutes with no intermission

Ticket Information

Box Office: 804-282-2620

http://www.virginiarep.org

Tickets range from $36 – $67

Discounted Group Rates and Rush tickets available.

Photo Credits: Aaron Sutten [production photos were not yet available at the time of publication]

———-

Virginia Rep COVID Guidelines

To provide the highest level of safety, all patrons are required to show proof of vaccination, or proof that they have received a negative COVID test by a professional technician within 48 hours of the performance date/time.

Patrons must show your vaccination card or a photo of the card on your phone, along with a valid photo ID, when you arrive for the performance. If you are unable to be vaccinated, you may provide proof of a Rapid COVID-19 antigen test taken within 48 hours of your performance. At home tests will not be accepted.

Please see the Virginia Rep Covid Safety FAQ for details.

In accordance with current city, state, and CDC guidance, face masks are REQUIRED at all times while you are in the building, regardless of whether or not you have been vaccinated.

At this time, no food or drink is allowed in the theatre.

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BONNIE AND CLAIRE

A Tender New Comedy by Bo Wilson

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: Hanover Tavern, 13181 Hanover  Courthouse Rd, Hanover, VA 2309

Performances: May 13 – June 12, 2022

Ticket Prices: $48 (subject to change during the run)

Info: (804) 282-2620 or www.virginiarep.org

Richmond-based playwright Bo Wilson’s new play, Bonnie and Claire, is not only humorous, but also a gentle treatment of aging and the often unexpected and unintentional toll it takes on those we love. Two extra years in the making – due to that pesky little pandemic – Bonnie and Claire made its debut on Virginia Repertory Theatre’s Hanover Tavern stage May 13. Well worth the wait, it landed exactly right and hit all the feels.

Bonnie (Melissa Johnston Price) and Claire (Jan Guarino) are two sisters who have been estranged for decades, but life’s circumstances and advancing age have brought them together in  Bonnie’s small town home. The reunion is rocky, but their niece, Zoe (Sydnee S. Graves) is there to ease the transition – and drive the two wherever they need to go. At the beginning of the play, Zoe is chauffeuring Bonnie who is hobbled by crutches after, we soon learn, a car accident. With each subsequent scene, Bonnie appears with a new injury – an arm sling, a neck brace. All are due to accidents in which she was driving – such as driving into a 7-11 – and none of them were her fault. According to her.

Wilson and his phenomenal cast have impressively balanced the element humor with the reality that comes with aging and the declining ability to do the things we love, the things that give us our freedom and independence. It is understandable that Bonnie is cranky and even appears somewhat ungrateful that she has to rely on her niece Zoe, and at first Zoe is caring, polite, and deferential. But as the accidents escalate over the nearly ten years this play encapsulates (from 1990 to 1999) the burden of being a care-giver to Bonnie and mediator between the two sisters, who have vastly different worldviews, begins to wear on Zoe, who is trying to start a new business and a new relationship.

ADVISORY: Skip the next paragraph if you plan to see the show and want to be surprised!

Claire, who has worked as an actress for decades, lived in the city and never learned to drive. Of the three, she initially seems flighty and superficial, and her character takes the longest to develop, but gradually we see the chasm close between the two sisters. Bonnie outwardly remains her crotchety old self, but underneath the gruffness even she has some soft edges and begins to smile and even laugh a bit as the years pass and the two sisters are drawn together by past memories and the reality of the present and future challenges. The greatest change is seen in Zoe, whose apprenticeship as a caregiver and relationship with her aunts helps her transition into adulthood. Zoe learns to draw boundaries, falls in love with her business partner (who happens to be another woman), and by the final scene they are ready to start a family. So here we are privy to another dichotomy, another delicate balance, between growth and decline, between dependence and independence.

The entire play takes place in a car – first in Zoe’s fluffy ride and later in Bonnie’s old Buick. Kudos to Jacob Mishler’s sound design – every time a door was closed, an ignition was started, or any other vehicle related sound was required, it happened – perfectly timed and at an appropriate volume. Every. Single. Time. (Sometimes it’s the little things that make a big difference.) Dr. Jan Powell’s direction infused Bonnie and Claire with a satisfyingly rhythmic ebb and flow of humor and compassion. The ensemble – veteran Melissa Johnston Price with her wide range and droll humor; Jan Guarino, who directed VirginiaRep’s first show after the pandemic shutdown, Barefoot in the Park, and the wife of the playwright, Bo Wilson; and Sydnee S. Graves, who is making her Hanover Tavern debut – appeared to be a tight-knit unit even on opening night, so one can only expect their chemistry to increase throughout the run, which concludes June 12.

ADVISORY: Another possible spoiler!

After Zoe puts her foot down, takes away Bonnie’s car key, and pretty much orders her two elderly aunts to play nice and behave, the two giddily decide to go for a short ride. Bonnie had a spare key! Now, mind you, Bonnie’s license has been revoked and Claire hasn’t been behind the wheel of a car since she was about fifteen with a learner’s permit! Of course their planned outing to get ice cream ends with them getting lost and Zoe has to come rescue them.

Hijinks and shenanigans abound – and many of us can relate to the family dynamics – all of which makes Bonnie and Claire a marvelous theater experience that I highly recommend.


Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.


BONNIE AND CLAIRE

By Bo Wilson

Directed by Jan Powell

Cast

Bonnie ………………..       Melissa Johnston Price

Claire …………………         Jan Guarino

Zoe ……………………         Sydnee Graves

Design Team

Scenic Design  …….….         Terrie Powers

Costume Design ……..        Marcia Miller Hailey

Lighting Design ………        Matt Landwehr

Sound and Projection Design … Jacob Mishler

Stage Management ……     Joe Pabst

Ticket Information

Box Office: 804-282-2620

or http://www.virginiarep.org

Tickets prices start from $48

Discounted Group Rates and Rush tickets available.

Run Time

The show runs 90 minutes with no intermission

Photo Credits: Aaron Sutten

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SUGAR IN OUR WOUNDS

A Tale of Queer Love and Ancestral Voices

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: Richmond Triangle Players at the Robert B. Moss Theatre, 1300 Altamont Ave, RVA 23230

Performances: April 20-May 14, 2022.

Ticket Prices: $30-35; $18 for Preview nights; $10 for Students.

Info: (804) 346-8113 or rtriangle.org. Richmond Triangle Theater has returned to full-capacity seating and requires proof of vaccine or recent negative PCR test results for entry. See the theater’s website for their COVID-19 precautions, digital programs, and more.

Just as every now and then someone says, does, or creates something so wonderful that I enviously wish I had done it. Similarly, every now and then someone creates a play, poem, or story that is so unique or so wonderful that I wonder why I never thought of or heard of the idea before. Sugar in Our Wounds by Philadelphia-based Afro-Queer playwright, poet, and filmmaker Donja R. Love is a prime example of this type of work. Rescheduled from 2020, you know, when that little thing called The Pandemic stopped by, Sugar in Our Wounds was well worth the wait. Set on a plantation in the summer of 1862, during the Civil War, “somewhere down South, by a tall, tall tree,” Sugar in Our Wounds examines the intersection of freedom and love.

“Ain’t no roamin’ the world, for a weak nigger. – Henry

STRANGE FRUIT

An elder, Aunt Mama, and her makeshift family, James and Mattie, occupy a cabin on a plantation that has a striking feature – a mystical whispering tree so tall no one can see the top. Generations of enslaved people have been hung from this tree, but James is determined this particular generational curse will stop with him. James is smart. He keeps his head down – both literally and figuratively – and follows the rules – except for one. The master’s daughter, Isabel, sneaks down to the cabin periodically to teach James how to read.  She’s bored, because her husband is away fighting the war, and predictably, at some point, like Potiphar’s wife in the Old Testament, she begins to take a dangerous interest in the only available men around, but that’s not the real story here.

The real story is about love, across time and generations, and involves a young stranger who arrives and is accepted by Aunt Mama and her little family. Mattie, who also happens to be the master’s daughter, is in a precarious position, trusted by no one. Although we never see or hear from other enslaved people on the plantation, we know there are others, but only Aunt Mama and James feel safe in the company of Mattie, who like many others in her situation, is not welcome in either of the worlds she straddles. So of course, Mattie is attracted to this able-bodied stranger, Henry, but we soon find out that Henry, while he does not entirely rebuff Mattie, is far more interested in James than he is in Mattie.

“The darker you is, the more questions you got.” – also Henry

HISTORY LESSONS

There are so many significant details in Sugar in Our Wounds that it would be nearly impossible to notice them all on just one viewing. The show opens with projections of legs and feet, photos on the rocks and trees, the “strange fruit” many of us were first introduced to by Billie Holiday’s recording of the mournful song of the same name. The tree hums and whispers, and James and Aunt Mama can hear it and communicate with it, with the ancestral spirits who reside in or around it and who use it to teach and warn their descendants. One notices a fancy chair that seems out of place in the little cabin, that is sparsely furnished with a tiny communal bed, shared by the three occupants, an all-purpose that serves as a seat or a table, and a bucket whose aroma Isabel finds offensive.  The chair, of course, belongs to Isabel. Aunt Mama refuses to keep the bucket (aka chamber pot) outside because it is a precious commodity and might be stolen by nearby residents – another way we know this little family is not alone on this plantation. At one point there is an authentic feeling ring shout for the upcoming freedom. But there were also a few moments that seemed out of time and place. Sometimes the men are barefoot, and sometimes they wear shoes – and socks. Would enslaved young men have owned socks? During one visit to teach James to read the bible Isabel says the slop bucket smells “funky” and moments later she to James, “you blow me away.” The Oxford dictionary says the word “funky” originated in the late 17th century, so maybe it would have been used, and idiomorigins.org says “blow me away” phrases date back to the 16th century.  Later, James says, “Don’t act new!” It seems people were saying something similar back in the day – as far back as the 1560s. Shakespeare even had a variation, “fire-new.” Both “brand new” and “fire-new” meant fresh from the fire. Who knew?

THE SPIRIT OF LOVE

The cast, the story, the execution of this production more than just a play, more than a love story. It felt like a work of love that was more than just acting, but more like a spiritual offering. Dorothy Dee D. Miller inhabited the persona of Aunt Mama like an act of faith, as if she did not just choose to act this role, but as if she HAD to share this role. Jónel Jones, whom I had recently seen as a scammer in a TheatreVCU production of Intimate Apparel took on a quite different role here as the hero, giving a strong yet gentle, nuanced performance that lingered some time after the final bows. Duron Marquis Tyre as Henry, the mysterious new-comer similarly maintained a balance of mystery, danger, and tenderness. Tyra Huckaby maintained a relatively low-key supporting role until the end, when the seed she was carrying elevated her to a place of prominence as the last remaining hope for the future, while Charlotte Grace Smith was a necessary but negligible presence – not because she wasn’t good enough but because Sugar in Our Wounds wasn’t about her.

Director Lucretia Marie did an excellent job, creating, maintaining, and drawing the audience into this mystical world in a way that educated, entertained, and enlightened all at once. The pacing, the acting, the setting, the atmosphere, all worked together to create that magic that every show aims for but few actually achieve. Sugar in Our Wounds is one of the most memorable and moving shows I’ve seen in recent memory, and I hope to have a chance to see it again in the future to see if it hits the same.

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Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

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SUGAR IN OUR WOUNDS

Written by Donja R. Love

Directed by Lucretia Marie

CAST:

James …………………………………….          Jónel Jones

Aunt Mama ……………………………          Dorothy “Dee D.” Miller

Isabel …………………………………….          Charlotte Grace Smith

Mattie …………………………………..           Tyra Huckaby

Henry ……………………………………           Durron Marquis Tyre

Understudies

For Isabel – Juliette Aaslestad

For Aunt Mama – Sharalyn Bailey

For Mattie – Ayana Flowers

For Henry – Calvin Graves

For James – Makai Walker

CREATIVE TEAM:

Scenic Design by William Luther

Costume, Hair & Make-Up Design by Margarette Joyner

Lighting Design by Steven Koehler

Sound Design and Original Music by Kyle Epps

Projections Design by Dasia Gregg

Props Design by Tim Moehring

Intimacy Choreographer – Kirsten Baity

Violence/Asst Intimacy Choreographer – Stephanie Tippi Hart

Assistant to the Properties Designer – Nicole Pisaniello

Dialect Coach – Evamarii Johnson

Dramaturg – Shinji Elspeth Oh

Assistant Director – David Powell

Original Scenic Concept – Mercedes Schaum

Technical Director – Rebecka Russo

Assistant Stage Manager – Dwight Merritt

Production State Manager – Shawanna Hall

Photo Credits: John MacClellan

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