What side of the Mason-Dixon line you’re from not only determines the sweetness of your tea, it may also determine how you define the word “Family.” Sweet Tea & Baby Dreams, written and directed by the highly energetic Maribeth McCarthy and completing its two-week run on Aug. 10-13 weekend in the Studio Theatre in Jones Hall at Meredith College in Raleigh, NC, is the fourth show in this season’s lineup of the Women’s Theatre Festival. It is McCarthy’s second staged production for the Women’s Theater Festival. Patrons may remember her production of Bruisers which was performed in last year’s festival
Anyone who has ever been to a bridal shower, wedding shower, birthday party, or family reunion for that matter will appreciate Sweet Tea and Baby Dreams. It centers around a baby shower for Maggie (Rachel McKay) that is being hosted by her high-strung, eager-to-please, best friend and sister-in-law Nora, played by Chelsey Winstead. The location is a church hall recreation room, and in typical party fashion all is not going according to plan.
As much as Nora wants the day to be perfect for her friend Maggie, she is desperately trying to win the approval of her mother-in-law Mama Jubilee. Despite being married for eight years, Nora feels like she will never be accepted into the family due to being born on the wrong side of the Mason-Dixon line. Her husband, Quinn (played by Joey DeSena), proves to be not much help, and sends her further into a tizzy.
To help save the day, reinforcements are sent in. We have Zee, the funny, no-nonsense, liquor-welding Lesbian, played by Rissa Brionson, and Yankee twins Aiden and Avery. Tyler Graeper who plays fashionista Aiden is quick witted and perfectly paired with Liz Webb, who plays his twin sister Avery. They have good intentions; but in helping Nora, they end up causing more havoc than help.
Mama Jubilee is the quintessential caricature of a high-spirited, overbearing, knows-what’s-best-for-you Southern Mother. However, actress Kelly Stansell is what brings this part to life. She captures the matriarchal component of the character, but doesn’t portray her as a typical Southern stereotype. She gives the character room to grow from being shallow and overbearing to later baring her soul.
There are some cute moments from feisty vixen Yankee Mama Anne, played by Carla Reck, which are a good contrast to Stansell. Lauren Bamford, who plays Mama Jubilee’s perfect daughter Samantha, also has some equally funny moments specifically towards the end of Act I.
The show held your attention at all times, but I felt like I was watching two different shows. Act I was high energy, fast paced, funny, and all about the shenanigans that ensued as two very different families reacted to each other.
Act I ends with a surprise twist which is also the opening of Act II yet is only mentioned again as a throwaway line later. However, Act II takes takes the audience on a dramatic roller-coaster ride of emotions very quickly. Even though I understand the metaphorical slap in the face shift of emotions, I would have like to have a little bit more of a transition between the two.
All of the actors are utilized in Act I; however, as Act II centers around the Jubilee family we lose most of the characters. The funny twins who act as a Greek Chorus are sequestered to the kitchen along with Zee. It also felt like Zee’s character was mostly a filler, which is a shame because actress Rissa Brinson was fun to watch, leaving us wanting more. After the tender moments and family revelations are revealed, everyone comes back on stage to finish getting ready for the party. Some characters have renewed leases on life, while others are blissfully unaware of the changes.
There were two casting choices that bothered me a little. I felt that the roles of Quinn and Jack should have been reversed. Visually, Joey DeSena would have been better suited to portraying doting new father Jack; and Sean Malone would have been better suited to the role of Quinn. I was confused at first as to which family each of the actors belonged to. Also, although the role of Jack was written as a slightly goofy and excited expectant father, it was portrayed in a way that he appeared to be Autistic. Although that was the actor’s choice, this slightly bothered me and was a little uncomfortable to watch.
Other than that, the show is funny, heartwarming and for the most part well written. Maribeth McCarthy captures the spirit of the different families, and the struggles that are relatable to everyone. The show relied on lots of props, and the set designed by Ami Kirk Jones was visually appealing and realistic. You will laugh, cry, and have a few moments of saying “No she didn’t!” You should definitely add Sweet Tea and Baby Dreams to your theater calendar!
SECOND OPINION: Aug. 7th Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article165816622.html; Aug. 6th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods: https://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/sweet-tea-and-baby-dreams/Event?oid=7314850; and Aug. 4th Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Alan R. Hall: http://www.cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=8586. (To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the Aug. 10th Triangle Review review by Katy Koop, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2017/08/wtfs-sweet-tea-and-baby-dreamsis-emotional-and-hilarious-with-razor-sharp-comedic-zingers/.)
The Women’s Theatre Festival presents SWEET TEA AND BABY DREAMS at 8 p.m. Aug 10-12 and 3 p.m. Aug 13 in the Studio Theatre in Jones Hall at Meredith College, 3800 Hillsborough St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27607.
TICKETS: $10, except free for Meredith students and faculty and $5 for non-Meredith students and seniors.
BOX OFFICE: 919-760-2840 or https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLScXW89ASVn5VVLD-FsOkU6uUYxcGybwerlDWvYR2IYfui_XBg/viewform.
Maribeth McCarthy (playwright and director): https://www.facebook.com/Wickedenigma (Facebook page).
Shannon Plummer-White is no stranger to the stage! She studied Musical Theater & Opera at the American Musical Dramatic Academy in New York City, and has appeared in films such as Iron Man 3 and Safe Haven. She has also performed with the North Carolina Master Chorale and the North Carolina Symphony. When she isn’t on stage or making magic behind the scenes, she can be found in the art studio playing with fire and molten glass. She is an animal advocate with a special love of cats. She has four rescued fur children and a very supportive husband. Click here to read her reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.