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Theatre Review by Howard Miller - October 5, 2022

Landon G. Woodson and Britney Nicole Simpson
Photo by Hunter Canning
The New Light Theater Project's production of Erin E. Adams' Ink'dWell, opening tonight at 59E59 Theatres, is an intense, deeply moving play about death, mourning, and, thankfully, the possibility of redemptive healing among three generations of Black women who are gathered in a state of individual and collective shock and confusion at the family beach home in Martha's Vineyard.

The scion of the family, Isaac (Landon G. Woodson), a seemingly strong and well-grounded man in his 30s who has a strong connection with the ocean and is a powerful swimmer, has apparently drowned. It makes no sense to his sister Kendra (Britney Nicole Simpson), his mother Maya (Cherene Snow), his wife Ember (Starr Kirkland), or his teenage daughter Nia (Tai Leshaun). For a long time, information about his death remains a mystery, though its revelation only serves to deepen their grief and pushes them away from one another.

The gulf is already a wide one between Kendra, who has long suffered from anxiety attacks, and her mother Maya, who brooks no weakness in herself or in her children and who believes mightily in the power of prayer to cure all things. Ember and Nia will have to deal with their own pain while the other two circle one another like a pair of angry feral cats. Maya attempts to cope by ensconcing herself inside a fortress of regal and distancing appearances. For her part, Kendra disappears into her remembrances of her beloved brother, the one she has turned to for advice and support all her life, the one who taught her to overcome her fear of the ocean and learn how to swim.

Some of Ink'dWell (the significance of the title is not explained in the play) takes the form of Kendra's memories/dreams of times she has spent with Isaac through the years, and, in particular, of a scary story he used to tell her about a sea witch. But the deeper we go and the more we learn, the more thoroughly realistic and emotionally true it all becomes. Kendra stops being the center of things, while Maya and Ember and Nia grow in equal proportions until what we have is a family struggling alone and together to find a way forward.

Under the direction of Tabatha Gayle, the cast overall is quite excellent. But the standout here is Cherene Snow as Maya, a woman whose faith is sorely tested and who must learn to embrace, however gingerly she is able to, the scary unknowns of life. Ms. Snow, who knows about the power of close-ups through a career in film and television, is expert at using the space in one of the smaller theaters at 59E59 to reach out to the audience and show us the depths of what we can perceive to be a very complex woman. A round of applause, as well, to scenic and projection designer Anna Kiraly, who has provided both an indoor setting and an outdoor oceanfront, all in the same small performance area.

Through October 16, 2022
New Light Theater Project
59E59 Theaters, Theater C
59 East 59th St., New York
Tickets online and current performance schedule: