Shattered Globe serves up a rich Stew
Updated: Sep 20, 2022
Zora Howard’s STEW now up at Theatre Wit in Lakeview is a powerful play about a family with all its foibles and love. A finalist for the 2021 Pulitzer, this is a story about a day in the life of three generations, and over the 90 minutes you will come to love this family that continues to move forward despite the burdens they carry. You will want them to find peace and happiness even as it slips away. If it was a tv show you would want season 2 to get picked up pronto!
Mama, played by the astounding Velma Austin, has not been well, but it's her special day at the church and she is making her famous stew. She asks her family to join her on this one day. Daughter Lillian (played by ensemble member Jazzma Pryor) has come home with her daughter Lil Mama (played by ensemble member Demetra Dee)–her son and husband are awkwardly not there and the reasons will become clear as the day wears on. Seventeen-year-old Nelly (played by Jasmine Cheri Rush) is secretly dating someone and it will come out that she is 8 weeks pregnant. Though this is an African American story where the unacknowledged burden of systemic racism seems to dog this family, although it could be the story of any tight knit family of faith with a strong matriarch that comes together in the kitchen to cook : in my family the soup was chicken and there are Irish famine/Holocaust potatoes on the side. Comfort eating remains a way to cope with what life dishes out.
It will be revealed that Mama is beginning to suffer from some form of dementia and there will be a surprise and somewhat opaque ending that was disconcerting due to the very representational style of the show: the food is real, the sink has real water, etc. I came to see the circular structure as a way of broaching Mama checking out from the painful realities of life: the story becomes a dream or a hallucination in retrospect, but I welcome other interpretations since I found myself confused.
What is completely brilliant about this show is the realness of the banter between the family, and how they use Shakespeare as a way to connect, show off to each other and how it foreshadows the ending. This ensemble creates a world for us, and a family. It is a season now when we are all looking at our connections and this show will make you think deeply about what it means when you are family, what it means to go home.
STEW is playing at Theatre Wit where Shattered Globe is in residence at 1229 West Belmont in Chicago, on Thursdays through Sundays through October 22. Go to https://sgtheatre.org/stew/
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