Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
The misdirection begins with the pre-show music: sound designer Roc Lee keeps things light with a collection of theme songs from sitcoms based around African Americans, from "The Jeffersons" and "Good Times" to "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air." Misha Kachman's scenic design depicts the large, tasteful, well-appointed (and in some places two-dimensional) house of Beverly Frasier (Nikki Crawford), her husband Dayton (Samuel Ray Gates), and their teenage daughter Keisha (Chinna Palmer). The focal point of the living room is a large photorealistic portraitan upper-middle-class African-American family on display.
Director Stevie Walker-Webb understands the importance of pacing as the action begins fairly benignly. At first the play seems utterly conventional, with a few hiccups, as Beverley wears herself out preparing a 70th-birthday dinner for her mother, and Dayton offers his help without actually doing much. They're soon joined by Beverley's waspish sister Jasmine (Shannon Dorsey, making a meal out of her every word) and overachieving Keisha, home from school after basketball practice. One odd thing is that several characters examine themselves in an invisible mirror on the fourth wall, facing the audience.
However, that's just the beginning. The perfect surface begins to crack, several other characters make their presence known, Ivania Stack's costumes go from elegant to outrageous, and nothing is what it appears to be, including who's in charge of the action. The cast members, especially Palmer, surrender themselves to the needs of the play and go fearlessly wherever it leads.
In conjunction with the production, Woolly Mammoth is hosting post-show conversations after each performance to allow audiences to share their opinions and regain their footing in the constantly shifting landscape conjured by the play.
Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company