Featured LEISURE

‘Stew’ is all about the family

Jamaelya Hines and Danielle Bunch perform in the Scripps Ranch Theatre production of “Stew.” (photo by Ken Jacques)

‘Stew’ is all about the family

By John Gregory

The concept of family is universal – and life in a real family can be more dramatic than any soap opera.

Scripps Ranch Theatre is rehearsing a co-production with Common Ground Theatre in preparation for the staging of a performance that will highlight intricate relationships and conflicts between three generations of one family – family members cooking together for a special occasion in a small space. It’s a recipe for high drama and outrageous revelations.

“Stew,” a play with a rapidly moving script, will run at Scripps Ranch Theatre from April 5 to April 21. 

By all indications, those involved are pulling out all the stops to produce a highly relatable performance spanning all cultures. The play promises to have drama, emotion, strong dialogue and a detailed set with more props than usual. 

“The themes are about multi-generational connections and family legacy. It’s about a day in the life of a family,” said Yolanda Marie Franklin, “Stew” director from Common Ground Theatre.

“No matter who you are, you’ll see a piece of yourself,” Franklin said. “That’s why I want people to come out. I want them to see how we do this in real time. How do we talk about difficult things that are difficult to talk about with each other?” 

She explained that it takes a normal event to get people to relate to a play such as this, and then the drama unfolds.

“There are some extraordinary circumstances – or some drama that happens – that keeps you intrigued.” she said. “So, we’re showing what happens when your family comes back home when there are secrets that lie underneath that everyone is holding.” 

This a peek into an African American family on a day when everyone arrives for an important anniversary in the city of Mt. Vernon, Va. Three generations of women crowd into the kitchen to help. Secrets are revealed as they try to cook the stew all day. 

“It’s like stew. Stuff comes bubbling to the top. What the stew represents is the stability that Mama is trying to hold onto throughout the whole play,” Franklin said. “The things that arise are the dramas and secrets and revelations. And how do we navigate through that? But then there’s love. It’s all love. That’s what you’ll get with this.”

Mama Tucker is an empty nester but well-known in her community. She is up early preparing a stew to take to a special event as her children arrive to help. 

“We get to see these three generations of women come together and have life happening right in front of us,” Franklin said.

Mama is portrayed by Alyce Smith Cooper. Lil’ Mama, a girl in her preteens, is played by Jamaelya Hines. Lillian, a daughter in her 30s, is played by Danielle Bunch. Jodi Marks plays Nelly.

The play will be mostly set in a kitchen, but the set also features a staircase that goes to a second floor. Besides the kitchen and staircase, the action will take place in  the dining room and even outside of the house. There will be the illusion of going into the living room, Franklin said, adding, “We’ll use stage magic.”

Leave no doubt, “Stew” is based on realism.

“It’s a very prop-heavy play and it has a lot of food. … We’ll have running water. We’ll have tea kettles that are going off,” Franklin said. “We have (the actors) talking over each other while dealing with a lot of props because there’s cooking through the entire thing. So, we’re going to have real food and you’ll smell real stew cooking.”

The secret is that there will be pumps and electronics hidden in the background, Franklin explained. In addition, she credited an excellent stage crew. The set designer is John Spafford. The prop designer is Duane McGregor. Lighting design is by Deana Trethewey. The sound supervisor is Ted Leib; and costume design is by Cassandra Crawford. 

The production of “Stew” will be held on the campus of Alliant International University. Visit scrippsranchtheatre.org. Purchase tickets online at scrippsranchtheatre.org/tickets or contact SRT Patron Services at (858) 395-0573.