‘Stew’ is full of storytelling and nostalgia

LOS ANGELES, Calif. – Three generations of women all gathered together in Mama’s kitchen at the Ebony Repertory Theatre in “Stew,” a play by Zora Howard and directed by Jade King Carroll.

It begins as Mama, played by Greta Oglesby, gets up in the morning to prep her stew for a church event. Mama is jamming to her music and preparing the stew when she hears a loud noise outside from what seems to be a gunshot.

Mama says it was a tire pop.

Pictured are (from left) iesha m. daniels, Nedra Snipes, Greta Oglesby, and Roslyn Ruf.

The rest of the ladies rushed downstairs paranoid about the noise.  They dismissed the incident that occurred outside and each of the women began to contribute to making the stew.

Throughout the evening, the four women shared with one another many obstacles in their lives and had emotional conversations with each other. Lilian (Roslyn Ruff) expresses to her mother about the hardship she was dealing with her husband.

Nelly (Nedra Snipes), the 17-year-old daughter of Mama and Lilian’s sister, is dealing with a pregnancy something her sister Lilian had experienced at 17. Lil Mama (Iesha m. Daniels) is struggling with remembering the lines of the play she wants to do.

Mama is dealing with her health, something she described as “it comes and goes.”

Throughout the course of the play and the process of the stew the women laugh, argue and share their issues with each other. “Stew” had the crowd laughing but also sympathized with the issues of the characters.

Every one of the women always raises the same question, “Where’s Junior?” Junior is Lilian’s son and she assures them that he was at his friends’ house and that he was going to make it to the church event. The men never made an appearance in the play.

Finally, as the stew is coming along the women are getting along and look as if they figured out their problems.

The play replays a scene in the beginning where Mama is listening to the radio, prepping the stew. Mama sings as she prepping what looks like a cup of tea when she hears a loud noise, a popped tire again or a gunshot.

Mama tries to convince herself that it’s just a popped tire. Lil Mama runs downstairs and looks out the window and Mama tells her that it’s just a tire that popped. Lil Mama runs outside and begins screaming.

Nelly is the second to run down the stairs and Mama tells her that it’s just a tire that popped. She also looks out the window and runs outside and begins screaming.

Pictured are (from left) iesha m. daniels, Roslyn Ruff, Greta Oglesby, and Nedra Snipes

Finally, Lilian is the third person to run down the stairs, looks out the window and Mama reassures her that it’s just a tire that popped. She runs outside and begins screaming but Lilian’s yell was the loudest of them all.

This captivated the audience and left them in shock. The lights went out and Mama made her way to the back. As the actors returned one by one, the crowd got up their seats and began clapping with a standing ovation.

Wren T. Brown, founder and producing artistic director, had his first encounter this play in July 2023 at the Pasadena Playhouse.

“I sat there on opening night, I was really hopeful and prayerful for an exciting evening in the theater, said Brown. “I had two friends in the play, two actresses who’ve been longstanding friends.”

Brown expressed the importance of the writer Howard’s examination of Black cultural life similar to the life he lived as a young person.

“I was a young person raised by a mother, a grandmother, and a great-grandmother,” said Brown about the way the play expressed Black culture in America. “So multiple generations in one household, and examining those experiences, touched me very immediately.”

Pictured are (from left) Roslyn Ruff and Greta Oglesby.

Brown shared that Howard’s writing of the play was very deeply authentic and was moved by the play.

“It was humorous, it was so funny to me, but it was also so powerful, and eventually so painful,” said Brown as he shares his first expressions. “And just kind of ran the journey of really being something that made you laugh, but also took you down to a depth of emotion.”

Brown thoughts on the ending of the play were present with him and the audience. He also believes that this is something that America has always struggled with and has also made headlines recently.

“The devastation that ends this play is unfortunately at an epidemic level,” said Brown about the ending of the play. “Particularly the Black community in this country, and so it was something that has unfortunately been a part of our history, but more importantly, it’s been unfortunately a part of our recent history. So that’s kind of my assessment of the ending, without telling audiences absolutely what happens.”

Top photo caption: Pictured are (from left) Greta Oglesby, Iesha m. daniels, Roslyn Ruff, and Nedra Snipes

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