Matriarchy and Resilience Come Through in "Stew"

A Co-Production Between Scripps Ranch Theatre and Common Ground Theatre  

A Blog View by Alejandra Enciso-Dardashti 

Jodi Marks and Danielle Bunch. Photo Ken Jacques 
"Stew" by Zora Howard, a 2021 Pulitzer Prize finalist in drama, is a stirring exploration of family dynamics and generational relationships. Generational dynamics are common in families and in this play, the dish is with different generations of women as they navigate love, loss, and the complexities of their interconnected pasts. The plot revolves around the lives of four women—Mama (Marti Gobel), her daughters Lillian (Danielle Bunch), and Nelly (Jodi Marks), and Lilian's daughter, Lil' Mama (Jamaelya Hines). There is also Junior who we hear of during the play but never see. Mama has some health issues, and the family gathers at her house to help her cook the stew for a church function that she is very invested in. Nelly lives with her and Lillian is visiting. 

The narrative delves deep into the emotional landscapes of each character, unraveling layers of unresolved tensions and buried secrets. Howard's script weaves together moments of intimacy, conflict, and vulnerability. It is there when you stop and think, "Is this what happens in a matriarch family or is it just inherent/by default?" Directed by Yolanda Franklin, the cast delivers powerful performances from the tense sibling confrontations, to the comedic dynamic between the family while cooking in the kitchen. Marti Gobel shines as Mama, embodying a mix of strength and vulnerability that anchors the family dynamic. Her diction, intention, and tone are strong and straightforward. Danielle Bunch brings a raw honesty to her portrayal of Lillian, capturing the character's struggles with identity and self-acceptance. Jamaelya Hines infuses Lil' Mama with youthful energy and resilience that adds a refreshing dynamic to the ensemble, and Jodi Marks's portrayal of Nelly lands the plot back down bringing coherence that grounds the story in a sharp reality. There are a couple of scenes dedicated to Lil' Mama rehearsing lines for an audition of Shakespeare's Richard III, and Mama offers to help due to her dramatic league credentials, it seems that Howard wrote in some foreshadowing through The Bard...or maybe it is just me...I will not give it away, but I am giving some food for thought...

Jamaelya Hines and Marti Gobel. Photo Ken Jacques
The production's creative elements enhance the storytelling with John Spafford's realistic set design creating a tangible sense of space and atmosphere. Duane McGregor's props design and set dressing add a layer of authenticity to the world of the play, a.k.a. Mama's kitchen, while Deanna Trethewey's lighting design is stirring and sometimes surprising accentuating the scenes with suspense and expectation. Ted Leib's sound design works in harmony to underscore the emotional beats and transitions.
Cassandra Crawford's costume design helps define each character, reflecting their individual personalities as they are mostly in pajamas the whole play, Crawford worked with that giving each character their own "lounge" style. The look of the play becomes relatable when the audience is inside Mama's kitchen having tea while seeing the lives of these women and their shared history.

With a surprising and enigmatic ending, Stew invites audiences to reflect on the complexities of family, love, and resilience. 

Currently playing until April 21, Stew is a co-production between Scripps Ranch Theatre and Common Ground Theatre

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