Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Philadelphia

Renaissance in the Belly of the Killer Whale
The Wilma Theater
Review by Rebecca Rendell | Season Schedule (updated)

Also see Rebecca's reviews of Everything Is Wonderful and Babel

Jaylene Clark Owens, Hollis Heath,
and Janelle Heatley

Photo Courtesy of The Wilma Theater
There is something electric about director Jaylene Clark Owens' production of Renaissance in the Belly of the Killer Whale at The Wilma Theater. An authentic connection between the women onstage and the community they love. Their joyous energy washing over the audience. Even the words they speak evoke a visceral emotional response well beyond mere meaning. Like the neighborhood of Harlem itself, it is an ineffable and serendipitous combination of influences that come together to create something marvelously unique.

Owens, Hollis Heath, and Janelle Heatley are the stars and co-writers (Chyann Sapp also co-writes) of this singular work. They play Bridget, Toni, and Shayla respectively, young professionals and childhood friends reuniting in the same spot they used to gather as children. The trio talk about what Harlem was like growing up and how fast things there are changing, but they also reenact conversations glimpsed on subway rides, dance their asses off, and become buildings to tell the story of their community.

Renaissance in the Belly of the Killer Whale does a phenomenal job conveying the impacts of gentrification and advocating for a future that respects and pays homage to the past. It is also a seriously good time. Walking the line between comedy and poetry slam, the play creates an environment where the audience feels free to laugh and carry on with the ensemble, even when the joke is on them. Everyone will have a good time here, but if you love black culture or New York City this is an especially fantastic celebration.

Renaissance in the Belly of the Killer Whale runs through March 7, 2020, at The Wilma Theater, 265 South Broad Street, Philadelphia PA. For tickets and information, please visit, call 215-546-7824, or come to the theater.

Jaylene Clark Owens: Bridget
Hollis Heath: Toni
Janelle Heatley: Shayla

Jaylene Clark Owens: Director
Angela Myers: Lighting and Set Designer
Becca Austin and Jaylene Clark Owens: Costume Designers