The Women of Brewster Place, which recently received a rousing production at Anthony Bean Community Theater, is a complex study of eight African-American women living in a public housing project. It's based on the prize-winning 1982 novel by Gloria Naylor, who wrote it while she was a student at Yale. Tim Acito adapted the work for stage and added music. Director Tommye Myrick used a three-piece band to accompany a high-voltage ensemble of singers on musical numbers.
The central symbol of the play is a graffiti-covered brick wall surrounding the project. The wall both keeps out sound from a neighboring highway and hides the project from view. Inside the community, Kiswana Browne (Idella Johnson) gives up her middle-class background and job prospects to organize protests and improve the lot of residents. When her mother (Michaela Harrison) visits, a heart-rending, cross-generational scene ensues around a song, performed vibrantly here.
The wall has many symbolic implications, as in the way people wall themselves off from each other and from personal truths. This aspect is intensely conveyed by the hostility residents have for a lesbian couple (Chase Kamata and Harrison). In fact, Kiswana's tenant protest meeting is torn to shreds by outrage at the couple.
Several subplots are interwoven. For instance, Mattie (Fran Love), the play's narrator, takes in a woman, Etta Mae (Nicole James Francois), who needs help, and tries to set her back on the straight and narrow — an attempt that's frustrated by an all-too-human pastor.
"Please, Lord, when will your waters come again, because my soul is dry," laments the cast in a moving hymn that captures the universality of the suffering that's walled away on Brewster Place.
Musical director Joel Britton, costume designer Helen Ruiz, choreographer Kesha McKey and all the cast and crew contributed to a remarkable production.