Life in the Brewster Place projects changes very little from one day to the next. Everyday without fail, Mattie ( Kim Yarbrough) can be seen sweeping, scrubbing, cleaning the decrepit building dutifully. But her thoughts and dreams are quite far away. Today she welcomes the return of her good friend, Etta Mae ( Cheridah Best). The globetrotting, ghetto fabulous diva has returned to Brewster Place with the same career goals she left with, finding a rich husband. Etta Mae has her eye on the new young preacher and plans to use every asset at her disposal to entice and entrap him with her womanly charms.
Another recent addition to the Brewster Place residence is Kiswana Brown ( Kelly M. Jenrette). Much to her chagrin, she comes from an educated family that is financially comfortable. Kiswana is all about Black empowerment and campaigns for the residents to raise up in rebellion over the building owner’s neglect and the societal disenfranchisement vicariously imposed on them by the makeshift wall that isolates the community from the sight and safety of the rest of the city.
Cora Lee ( Julanne Chidi Hill), the most “fruitful” of the women in the project, is Kiswana’s first attempts to reach out to her fellow Black people. Somewhat shy and insecure, Cora Lee struggles to manage her six children all by herself. Cora Lee loves babies, but forgets that those babies grow up to be children, then teenagers, etc. Kiswana reaches out to Cora Lee and her family with the best of intension, but the benefits of the connection are tragically short-lived.
Lorraine and Tee ( Christine Horn, Lisa Tharps) have recently moved to Brewster Place as well. They are a lesbian couple who was run out of a better neighborhood. Being a teacher, Lorraine chooses to keep her relationship on the downlow while outwardly projecting a positive, indomitable spirit. Tee on the other hand is defiant and confrontational, unashamed of her sexuality. Their relationship teeters dangerous on that fragile balance between love and their diametrically opposing philosophies.
And no small community would be complete with the out the nosey neighbor. You know, the old bittys that have their nose in everyone’s business. Not a lick of information for a bushel full of opinions… In the Brewster Place projects, that role falls to Sophie ( Charlene Modeste) and Mavis ( Erika Bowman, u/s). They hang out of their windows, watching the world go by, and never without something to say about it as it does. Sophie has a particular axe to grind with those women living together in sin – Lorraine and Tee.
The creator of The Women of Brewster Place: The Musical, Tim Acito said it best of Gloria Naylor’s characters when he wrote “her writing simultaneously celebrates and interrogates these universal archetypes”, images that persist some 35 years later. While these stories are told one by one as the show unfolds, the areas where the lives of these women overlap are moments filled with both great humor and great despair.
The song list of Brewster Place the Musical is decidedly funk and R&B grounded. However Director Michael Matthews makes wonderful use of the numbers “This Ain’t a Prayer” and “No”, both lead by Kim Yarbrough, to conjures the hauntingly similar parallels between slavery, chain gangs and the institutionalized incarceration the women of Brewster Place experience every day.
Celebration Theatre’s production of The Women of Brewster Place - The Musical is a quite an emotional roller coaster. The show does not feel like the best fit for such an intimate setting like Celebration, but the company of actresses displayed great chemistry. My personal favorite number was “Smile”. The Act II musical number is an enchanting homage to teachers who still love teaching and an exhausting yet incredible solo performance by Christine Horn. Well, Done.
The Women of Brewster Place – The Musical has just extended its West Coast Premiere through June 27th at:
7051-B Santa Monica Blvd.
Hollywood, CA 90046
For Tickets please call 323-957-1884
Celebration Theatre is a registered 501 (c) (3) not-for-profit Corporation supported largely by the generous donations from patron.