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A CurtainUp Review
Sowa’s Red Gravy

"Let me just say right off, I’m a witch, living in the spirit."— Sowa
Sowa’s Red Gravy
Jonathan Peck and Lonette McKee
(Photo: Gerry Goodstein)
Sowa is a 110-year-old African American woman who resides in Harlem in quantum time. Her many previous personalities include a white Hollywood star, an African warrior and a Louisiana voodoo queen. She is the storyteller in Diane Richards’ Sowa’s Red Gravy, adapted from Richards’ 2002 book, Sowa’s Red Gravy Stories for Broken Hearted Gals, published by Harlem Writers Guild Press. Sowa is also a witch and a philosopher.

Woodie King, Jr. directs this play of interrelated stories told by Sowa (Tony-nominated Lonette McKee). They range from African tales to plantation narratives to Harlem yarns. Many of them involve strong women trying to keep their wandering men in line, sometime with the help of magical powers or supernatural friends.

Sowa herself has problems with Sapphire (Jonathan Peck) who is lured away by the vampish Luwanna (Kimberly “Q”). Sowa’s best friend, Windy Willow (Toni Seawright), is an on-again-off-again lesbian (or “homosexual man trapped in a woman’s body”) who says, “Many times the way I feel depends on which side of the bed I wake up on.” Her advice for Sowa is to dump the bum.

But there is also Rev. Mose Walker (Gary E Vincent), who takes a special interest in his female congregants; Anxiety Man (Aaron Fried), a white visitor to Harlem who is anxious about a black takeover of the country; and Bernstein (Fried), a European Jew who sets up a kosher soul food restaurant after escaping Nazi Germany.

Belozah (Kene Holliday) is the cigar-smoking evil spirit, perhaps the Devil, who advocates for a sensual approach to life. He maintains that even the dirtiest, nastiest people will get to heaven. But he is still upset that no one celebrates his birthday. In fact no one has ever even asked when it is.

These are colorful characters indeed. And they are played by a versatile ensemble cast, dressed in dazzling costumes, complete with feathers and flowing scarves. Vincent’s exhilarating performance as the Reverend calling his flock to God is worth the price of the ticket all by itself. Iris Wilson’s African-influenced dancing and David D. Wright’s Djembe playing accentuate many of the stories.

Most of Sowa’s Red Gravy is told in African American vernacular, with all its down-to-earth, salty wisdom. Thus Sapphire explains his attraction for and to women when he says he is cursed “with the sweetest stuff in the world.” And Belozah proclaims, “I like me some big-booty women, I’m gone drank red-hot flaming wine and smoke me up some black juicy-ass cigars.” It's not being a totally polished piece is partly due to its folksy, vernacular and often vulgar humor. But it is a lot more fun than some of the more polished comedies one might see for a lot more money on Broadway.

Sowa’s Red Gravy by Diane Richards
Directed by Woodie King
Cast: Cast: Lonette McKee (Sowa), Aaron Fried (Anxiety Man/Bernstein), Jonathan Peck(Sapphire , Kimberly Q (Luwanna), Toni Seawright (Windy Willow), Gary E. Vincent (Rev. Mose Walker/Willie Turner), Iris Wilson (Ula/Dancer), David D. Wright (Djembe), Kene Holliday (Belozah)
Set Design: John Scheffler
Sound Design: Bill Toles
Lighting Design: Antoinette Tynes
Costume Design: Niiamar
Choreography: Bruce Heath
Music: Olu Dara & Randy Weston
Woodie King Jr's New Federal Theatre, in association with Castillo Theatre, at Castillo Theatre 543 West 42nd Street, between 10th and 11th Avenues.) 212-353-1176
From 10/18/12; opening 10/28/12 closing 11/18/12
Thursday and Friday evenings at 7:30 PM, Saturday at 2 PM and 8 PM, and Sunday at 2 PM
. Tickets: $25 Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons Oct. 28, 2012
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