Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Gordon, a British playwright of Jamaican descent, centers her drama on the nine-day mourning ritual that follows a death in the Jamaican community. Gloria, the recently departed matriarch at the center of the story, never appears in person but her larger-than-life portrait dominates Tim Mackabee's set for most of the play.
Gloria's daughter Lorraine (Lilian Oben) and her daughter Anita (Kaitlyn Boyer) live with her in her cozy, cluttered, knickknack-filled London home, lovingly detailed in Mackabee's multi-room design and Tim Jones' wide range of appropriate props. With the realization that Gloria's death is imminent, the family members gather: cousin Vince (Doug Brown), who served as a surrogate father after Gloria's husband walked out, with his wife Maggie (Kim Bey); Lorraine's ambitious brother Robert (Avery Glymph) and his wife Sophie (Katie deBuys), a non-Jamaican learning about the culture as she goes; and Gloria's oldest child Trudy (Joy DeMichelle), who stayed in Jamaica when her mother emigrated.
The program notes explain that Nine Night is a Jamaican observance that melds traditional African and Christian beliefs into a community ritual of eating, drinking (primarily Jamaican rum and beer), dancing, singing, and celebration of the life of the departed. On the ninth night, the living say farewell and allow the spirit of the deceased to move on; Lorraine, originally a skeptic, begins seeing omens and realizes that some beliefs may be true even if they don't seem rational.
Oben is the anchor of the play as Lorraine fumbles her way through the nuances of unfamiliar tradition. Brown and Bey, representing the older generation, come to the event with high spirits and expectations, while other family members have other agendas: Glymph's upward mobility, deBuys' role as a cultural outsider, Boyer as the outspoken young woman who wants to make changes, and DeMichelle's unbounded emotions.
Director Timothy Douglas understands that Gordon has packed the play with necessary detail–and, of course, the revelation of family secrets–and knows how to keep up the pace throughout. April Hickman's clever costumes, Harold F. Burgess II's lighting design, which shifts between naturalistic and eerie, and Matthew M. Nielson's sound design create an immersive effect for the audience.
Nine Night runs through October 9, 2022, at Round House Theatre, 4545 East-West Highway, Bethesda MD. For tickets and information, please call 240-644-1100 or visit www.roundhousetheatre.org.
By Natasha Gordon