Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
The Joy That Carries You
Also see Susan's coverage of Carol Burnett Honored with Signature Theatre's Sondheim Award
The play follows the warm relationship between African-American Alaia (Billie Krishawn) and Ashkenazic Jew Shiri (co-author Stoller) and the uncertainties they face in introducing each other to their parents. They're having Thanksgiving dinner with Shiri's father (Michael Russotto) and stepmother (Susan Rome), while Alaia is more distant with her mother (Lolita Marie), stepfather (James J. Johnson), and brother (Bru Ajueyitsi)–until the situation suddenly changes.
The staging in the intimate Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab places the audience on the two long sides of the space, with Misha Kachman's compact scenic design in the middle: a living room, dining area, and kitchen that represent several different homes. Illuminated frames displaying photos of the two families hang above the stage while the far walls take on ever-shifting blocks of color, evocative elements of Alberto Segarra's lighting design.
Much of the early part of the play is lighthearted as Shiri warns Alaia that her parents are inclined to overdo their liberal bona fides (they adore Michelle Obama, they recommend buying gifts at a shop owned by African immigrants, they enjoy reruns of "The West Wing"). On the other hand, Alaia's mother isn't sure what to make of her daughter's lesbianism, let alone the possibility that the woman her daughter loves is white.
The unique element here is how Alaia uses spoken-word poetry to share her thoughts with the audience (Secka is also known as a spoken-word artist). These writings are private, kept in a notebook that she won't allow Shiri to read, but they provide the audience with a look into her conceptions of joy coexisting with pain, bringing changes that ultimately lead to a return to self.
Stoller and Krishawn ably depict the equilibrium of long-term partners who still keep secrets they find too sensitive to share. Their affection balances their surface differences, such as their different styles of dress (well expressed through Danielle Preston's costume designs). Russotto gives a delightfully boisterous performance, while Marie sizzles as she surveys a life filled with challenges.
The Joy That Carries You runs through June 12, 2022, in the Mulitz-Gudelsky Theater Lab at the Olney Theatre Center, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, Olney MD. For tickets and information, please call 301-924-3400 or visit www.olneytheatre.org.
By Awa Sal Secka and Dani Stoller