by Indeyah Todman
(STX, February 5, 2022)
Florida A&M University’s (FAMU) “Sweet Mama Stringbean,” is more than sweet. Directed by Evelyn D. Tyler, a cast of talented Florida A&M University (FAMU) student actors bring playwright Beth Turner’s vision to life in the hour-long play. Behind the play is a prolific group of skillful stage management, faculty, and production staff members that helped the production come together as a team.
The two-act play follows the story of the real-life singer and actress Ethel Waters. Set in the year 1957, the play begins with an older Waters whose weight is negatively affecting her health. She has not gotten an acting role in six years. Haunted by her mother’s persistent phrase, “You were born in sin, and you will die in sin,” Waters questions whether the reason for her plight is because of her negative behavior towards others or she is cursed by the sin of her upbringing. In the form of a dream sequence, the play takes us through the life of Waters when she was younger, referred to as Ethel. By reminiscing about the good times and confronting the bad, Waters accepts responsibility for the state she is in and takes action to change it.
Jada Livingston, FAMU senior, plays the ran elderly, overweight Ethel WatersThe music exudes the time, love, and energy put into the play by everyone involved. Using classic Ethel Waters songs such as “Am I Blue” and “Stormy Weather” grounds the play in reality as if the audience is watching the real Ethel Waters on stage. The voices of Jade T. Livingston (Waters) and Abigail Magnus (Ethel) are magnetic, drawing you into the story with each note.
Musical director Mich’ele Barrington as pianist performed wonderfully throughout the play alongside the singers. It also served as segues between scenes. Although transitioning between each scene has room for improvement, the piano was enjoyable to listen to as you waited for the next scene to begin.
Through heartfelt scenes, singing, and comic relief, the play showcases the ups, downs, and in-betweens of Ethel Waters’s life for everyone to enjoy. One message has become clear: it is never too late to turn your life around. No matter how you were brought into life or the mistakes you made throughout life, you are not doomed to ‘die in sin.’ As our Ethel Waters learns, when you hit rock bottom, the only way to look is up.