Stew: All About the Women


ABOUT HALFWAY into STEW, the Gloucester Stage Company production running now through July 23, the central character, Mama, distills the plot of Shakespeare’s Richard III for her granddaughter, who is up for a part in the play.

“Richard,” she tells her granddaughter, Lil Mama, “is really about the women. That’s what they won’t tell you.”

Well, she could easily be talking about STEW, the play that was a 2021 Pulitzer Prize finalist that is making its regional debut here at Gloucester Stage.  

This play is, indeed, all about the women.

Written by Zora Howard, STEW is a tight drama centering on four women in the Tucker family—Mama, her younger daughter Nelly, older daughter Lillian and Lillian’s daughter, Lil Mama.  These three generations of Black women bicker and bond in Mama’s kitchen as they go about their morning and prepare a stew and vegetables for a church function later that hot day.

We soon learn that Lillian is visiting her mother from out of town with her pre-teen daughter Lil Mama and younger son, Junior, who is already outside the house playing when the curtain opens with Mama (Cheryl D. Singleton), alone in her kitchen cooking and breezily dancing to spirituals on the radio early on a Saturday morning.  

We meet Nelly (Janelle Grace), 17, who lives at home and is bursting to move out and on to what she knows will be an exciting adult life away from the confines of her mother’s limited world, determined she won’t live life like her older sister, Lillian (Breezy Leigh).  Lil Mama (Sadiyah “Dyce” Janai Stephens) is sparky, smart, and every bit a pre-teen, right down to the eye-rolling and slipper dragging as she’s ordered around by her impatient but loving mother.

This production of STEW is Rosalind Bevan’s directorial debut, and she has a lot to work with in Zora Howard’s powerful storytelling and the strong ensemble cast of the Gloucester Stage Company’s production.

“My sisters, my mother, and my grandmothers make up the most crucial parts of me. STEW is fiercely loving and true to the women who made us - so this piece is for them, said Bevan. “I hope this promise of a deeply moving story surrounding a home-cooked meal will call you back home to your family, your roots, and your truest self.” 

Without giving anything away, STEW is a deceptive, highly layered play in the best way possible.  The first third of the play lowers the audience into the rhythmic banter of Mama’s kitchen, and it’s utterly familiar—even as the bickering and hilarity between the women intensifies.  We’re in Mama’s world.  But then it builds with added layers that bring extraordinary dimension to each character as they bond and tease out haunting details that lie just beneath the surface of that familial banter, poking and joking.  These women are really looking across generational gaps at each other with love, bewilderment, frustration, and dread as they go about cooking their big feed.  

“I found the chaos of Mama’s kitchen to be so relatable—equally the most chaotic room full of laughter and sisterly jabs married with a stage for connection and the inevitable confrontation,” said Rebecca Bradshaw, who joined Gloucester Stage Company as artistic director last year.  “This story is a beautifully crafted comedy-drama inviting audiences to deeply understand these four resilient women.”

When a play is small (one set, four characters, nearly two hours), the real pressure falls on the players and the words they say.  This cast is wonderful as an ensemble.  Cheryl D. Singleton is clearly a veteran actor, providing the necessary center of gravity in this family as Mama.  Breezy Leigh as Lillian is so relatable as a modern woman trying to hold her life together—strong, wanting, heartbreaking.  And the two “youths”—Janelle Grace as Nelly and Sadiyah “Dyce” Janai Stephens as Lil Mama—are so sharp in their performances that show all the possibilities (good and bad) of youthful choices.

By the end of our short time with these women, that “easing in” quality at the play’s opening is gone, replaced with a head-snapping turn in the plot’s final moments that triggers intensity and all at once makes the audience question what just happened.  

Again, this production of STEW is highly layered.  In the best possible way.


STEW is running now through Sunday, July 23.  All performances, unless noted, are Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday at 3 p.m. at Gloucester Stage Company located at 267 East Main Street, Gloucester.  Tickets are now on sale and available at 

stew, lillie fearnow, gloucester stage company, stew leonard jr., zora howard, the 2019 sundance film festival, christopher griffith, janelle grace nelly, helen merrill, richard iii, susan smith, rebecca bradshaw, cheryl d. singleton, shubert foundation, rosalind bevan, mama, harlem-bred writer, janai stephens, rashaad ernesto green, john byrnes, roz bevan, breezy leigh, the shubert foundation, janelle grace (nelly), gloucester