By Constance Rodgers
for all the women who thought they were Mad was written by Zawe Ashton (currently starring in Betrayal on Broadway). It is a story of the mental anguish women of the second African Diaspora (the last 50 years) suffer, having left or never known their homeland and its important culture of sisterhood. The play follows the descent into madness of Joy, (the vulnerable and strong Bisserat Tseggai), a young business woman, born in Africa, brought-up and living in England.
Joy is alone. She has not spoken to her mother or Aunties in years. She does not have a life outside her career, which as the play opens is taking off in the direction she always worked for. Joy is up for a promotion, there is one other candidate, but Joy is told the title will be hers for sure. The meeting to announce the decision is later that afternoon. The rest of the play Joy struggles to get to the fateful meeting, but is thwarted over and over again by her own demons.
The production is staged with Joy in a see-through box. She is on display, unable to leave the box, yet others can enter, whether she wants them to or not. She is a prisoner, at the mercy of her boss, co-workers, visitations by the women of her family, and her doctor. Joy magically becomes pregnant. She delivers, lactates but can not mother her daughter, can not provide the infant sustenance. Joy begs for someone, anyone, to take “It” so she can get to the meeting and receive her promotion. Joy’s mother, Ruth (the elegant Stephanie Berry), chastises her, reminding her of all the babies lost in Africa to disease and bad water and of the blessing a healthy child is. Ruth tells Joy she can have it all, “You will have your promotion job, your child, your happiness, everything. I brought us here so you could have more than one. More than some.” But Joy knows she can’t have it all, women in the corporate world are still not equal, and there is no honoring of mothers in the West and no one to help her. “It takes a village” Ruth tells Joy, which gets a laugh.
There are six women from Joy’s family who watch, like a classical chorus, everything that happens to her, and bear witness to all her confusion and pain, taking on much of it themselves. It is not giving anything away to tell you that Joy is dead, having jumped to her death before the play begins. Sadly the drugs she was taking hurt more than helped (Ashton was also writing about medical racism). Joy’s standing in two worlds, gravely missing one, and wrongly idolizing the other, was too much for her. She is survived by her daughter, a mixed child, born in England, and we all hope she will be able to navigate both worlds, and take strength from her grandmother and Aunties in a way that her mother was not able to.
This production is acted brilliantly by the entire ensemble cast. Whitney White’s direction is visceral and intellectual, as the play itself is. A must see, already extended before opening.
With: Stephanie Berry (Ruth), Gibson Frazier (Boss/Doctor/Tom), Sharon Hope (Margaret), Nicole Lewis (Angela), Blasina Olowe and Kat Williams (Nambi), Cherene Snow (Rose), Bisserat Tseggai (Joy), Shay Vawn (Kim)
Scenic Design by Daniel Soule, Costume Design by Andrew Jean, Lighting Design by Stacey Derosier, Sound Design by Lee Kinney, Video and Projection Design by Johnny Moreno, Hair and Wig design by Nikiya Mathis, Production Stage Manager: Chelsea Olivia Friday.
Soho Rep. 46 Walker Street, Tickets at sohorep.org or 212 352-310, October 14 – November 24
Tickets: October 14-November 17: $35 general admission tickets, $65 premium seats
November 19-24: $50 general admission tickets, $90 premium tickets
$30 general rush and $20 student rush (with a valid school ID) tickets are available at the box office 30 minutes prior to curtain for each performance. $0.99 Sunday tickets will be offered November 3 and 10, and 17 at 7:30pm. They are available first come, first served at the box office only. There are no advance sales for Rush or $0.99 Sunday tickets.