“Marys Seacole” at Mosaic pays tribute to the courage of caregivers
Jackie Sibblies Drury is part of a new generation of African-American playwrights who have become a revolutionary force.
In 2019, Woolly presented Drury’s Fairview, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama that year. In collaboration with FairviewWoolly produced a Harlem-based Movement Theater Company show that is specifically by, about, and for black people. What to send when it breaks down, by Aleshea Harris, dealt with racial violence. At Mosaic, Dear Mapelfrom Psalmayene 24, was broadcast in February of this year. A strange loopthe Pulitzer Prize-winning musical with book, music and lyrics by Michael R. Jackson, was a hit at the Woolly Mammoth and recently opened on Broadway.
Mosaic, under Artistic Director Reginald L. Douglas, is currently producing Maryse Seacole, a new play by Drury, part of this revolutionary cultural explosion. Directed by Eric Ruffin (Mosaic’s Fabulation2019) and featuring an all-female cast led by DC favorite Kim Bey and Broadway star Tina Fabrique, Maryse Seacole explores the life of an extraordinary woman and the role of caregiver through the centuries.
The story of Mary Seacole is inspiring. She was British-Jamaican, born in Kingston in 1805. She was holy but practical, sometimes a nurse, sometimes a businesswoman, sometimes an entrepreneur. She eventually made it to the Crimean War, where she set up a “British Hotel” for the comfort of the soldiers.
Working on the front line, sometimes under fire, she cared for all who needed her, especially the wounded and dying, whom she called her “sons”. She received the Jamaican Order of Merit in 1991. In 2004 she was voted the greatest black Briton. His autobiography, Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands (1857), is one of the first autobiographies of an Afro-Caribbean woman.
The play has many resonances for today: the scourge of racism, and the importance of caregivers, who often care for patients far from their loved ones. The role of the mother, in all its contradictions, has become so much more difficult during the pandemic. And the site of the war that made Seacole famous? Ukraine.
Although Drury cites as influences Harold Pinter, Samuel Beckett, Bertolt Brecht and Suzan-Lori Parks (an established black playwright whose White noise was produced at the Studio Theater in January), the style of Maryse Seacole looks more like magical realism. We see Mary in various incarnations, as a nurse in the Crimea, as a helper in a modern retirement facility, and as a nanny watching over a child in contemporary Manhattan. It becomes the radiant soul of the caregiver. Sometimes the original Mary comes alive in the Mary of today. Maryse Seacole moves through space and time, with women playing a number of different roles.
Director Eric Ruffin has assembled an exceptional cast. Kim Bey is Mary; Tina Fabrique is the mysterious Duppy Mary. Amanda Morris Hunt is Grandma, whom Mary tries to educate, in various contexts, about the vicissitudes of nursing and life. Their interactions are perfect and often very funny.
Megan Graves is Miriam, who is sometimes a granddaughter visiting her grandmother in a nursing home, a young mother in Manhattan and a volunteer pretending to be pregnant in an exercise to teach nurses triage during mass shootings.
Tonya Beckman (May) is Florence Nightingale, a demanding Englishwoman from Kingston and the mother of Graves’ “pregnant” volunteer. Claire Schoonover is a desperately ill patient in a nursing home, a nun in Crimea, and the triage storyline shooter.
Towards the end, it seems, we are welcomed into the spirit of Mary in her various incarnations. Duppy Mary (Tina Fabrique) brilliantly reminds us of the horrors of American racism with a tale that, although poetically beautiful, unfortunately surprises no one. (White characters have also been written as sometimes boring and/or racist.)
Director Eric Ruffin devoted exceptional attention and care to every element of the production. At times the story is a little hard to follow and the pace slow; but this defect is more than compensated for by the prodigious talents of the participants.
Set design by Emily Lotz, properties by Deborah Thomas, costumes by Moyenda Kulemeka, and sound design by Cresent Haynes all draw heavily from Jamaican culture. Lighting designer is John D. Alexander and projection design is by Mona Kasra.
These words of Mary Seacole sum up her mission:
I am not ashamed to confess that I like to be of service to those who need a woman’s help and wherever the need arises – on any distant shore – I do not ask of greater or higher privilege than to serve him.
It is now our privilege to pay tribute to him.
Duration: 1h40 without intermission.
Maryse Seacole plays until May 29, 2022 presented by Mosaic Theater Company performing at the Sprenger Theater at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H Street NE, Washington DC. For tickets ($68 general admission), call the box office at (202) 399-7993 ext. 2, where to go in line.
Captioned performances are May 21 at 3 p.m., May 21 at 8 p.m., May 26 at 8 p.m., and May 26 at 8 p.m. (includes ASL aftershow).
the Maryse Seacole the program is online here.
COVID safety: All patrons, visitors, and staff visiting the Atlas Performing Arts Center must provide proof of vaccination to be admitted to the venue. Face masks that cover the nose and mouth must be worn at all times, regardless of vaccination status inside the building. See Mosaic Theater Company’s complete COVID safety policies and procedures.
Written by Jackie Sibblies Drury
Directed by Eric Ruffin
May: Tonya Beckman
Mary: Kim Bey
Duppy Mary: Tina Fabrique
Miriam: Megan Graves
Grandma: Amanda Morris Hunt
Merry: Claire Schoonover
Scenographer: Emily Lotz
Lighting Designer: John D. Alexander
Projection Designer: Mona Kasra
Costume and wig designer: Moyenda Kulemeka
Sound Designer: Cresent Haynes
Prop Designer: Deb Thomas
Intimacy and Combat Consultant: Sierra Young
Playwright: Teisha Duncan
Dialect Coaches: Teisha Duncan and Jen Rabbitt Ring
“I want to give you goosebumps when you’re at Mosaic”: Reginald L. Douglas (interview with Ramona Harper)
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