Sowa's Red Gravy
nytheatre.com review by Matt Roberson
October 26, 2012
With it’s sketchy, colorful past, it makes sense that I would find the devil hanging around 42nd Street. Just another warm night in October, and there he was: head to toe in a bright red suit, matching gator shoes, and a jerry-curl partly hidden beneath an equally red fedora. As he told me, it isn’t just about knowing how to sin; “you got to dress.” Belozah (Kene Holliday), as he’s known here, is just one of the many original and entertaining characters making up the weird and magical world of Sowa’s Red Gravy,
Framed perfectly on stage by John Scheffler’s imaginative set - a dark, wood-heavy voodoo apothecary in Harlem - Sowa’s Red Gravy is a gumbo of scenes, music, and dance, tied together by a series of monologues. Most of the tales are rooted in the past lives of Sowa, a crafty, self-assured magic woman claiming to be over 100 years old. If she’s to be trusted - and she tells us early on that she ain’t - Sowa has been everything from an African warrior to a lily-white, Hollywood actress. As it goes with any good story, however, it’s the entertainment, and not the truth, that matters most. On this point, Sowa does not disappoint.
In the capable hands of this ensemble, Diane Richards’ text, with its many changes in tone and style, is one of the most interesting things I’ve heard in a long time. First and foremost, it’s funny, as seen in Richard’s wife stealing Rev. Mose Walker (Gary E. Vincent) and the rivalry among a trio of Harlem witches (Lonette McKee, Kimberly Q, and Toni Seawright). The work also drips with sex appeal, as in the boasting of Sapphire (Jonathan Peck), a man cursed with “the sweetest stuff in the whole wide world,” and the hypnotic dancing of Iris Wilson. But Richards is just as capable of being heartfelt, displayed in a moving story about a Jewish baker (Aaron Fried) finding sanctuary in black Harlem after escaping Nazi Berlin. And even though Sowa’s is ultimately hampered by a weak through line and a surprisingly abrupt ending, the originality of Richards’ voice and vision is impressive.
Sowa’s Red Gravy is an expertly written, wildly entertaining celebration of the tall tales and colorful personalities that make humans so wonderfully unpredictable.