The summer of theatre coverage for our beloved magazine starts off with a play that I can describe as a powerful play that not only has its funny moments but thrilling at the same time. You would leave the show thinking “What would a mother do… for the love of their son?” Would she fight for him? Lie for him? Die for him? Some of the questions and more get answered with the production of Incendiary at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre.
The story follows the quest of single mother Tanya, played by the indomitable Nehassaiu deGannes, as she starts to put her place into action. We see her practicing her aim on the shooting range in one moment to doing cardio the next. Sounds a like odd pairing here… keep following along, it gets good.
Her goal is to see her second born and favorite child, Eric on his birthday, which is also the same day of his execution. Tanya is figured out two ways of seeing her son, peacefully or by any means necessary. Tanya is ready to make it happen, nonetheless. She has her guns in case of trouble, she got her hair done and she even baked her son’s favorite strawberry shortcake to boot.
Incendiary was a play unlike anything I ever seen before and not to be missed. Playwright Dave Harris uses his knowledge of comic books and video games and created a play that was truly unique that it’s like we are watching a modern-day black myth sprinkled with some hardcore truths about generational trauma, wild emotions, shifts in tone and a few unanswered questions. The direction from Monty Cole is solid because it creates a perfect blend of lightheartedness and darkness in every pivotal scene. When it comes to the comedic tones, it was brilliant like a fine-tuned car. It was never over-the-top and delivers that punch in the gut at the right time to laugh.
The cast of Incendiary is one of the best casts I have seen in the local theatre scene. Breon Arzell and Brandon J. Pierce played multiple characters throughout the production. What brought the big smile across my face and tears in my eyes was when they played Marcus & Markus attorneys at law. Between their quips back and forth like a tennis to their humorous parody of the legal system, you could have sworn that they are twins in roles. What they can do together, the two actors do separately apart brilliantly. Each single role they play from a gay hairdresser to a fitness trainer, was memorable and funny in a unique way.
While we don’t get to meet Eric until much later I the show, Terrence Fleming delivers a performance that by the end of his time on stage, you realize that Eric was far beyond hope for redemption. Fleming challenges the audience’s perception of Tanya’s love for her son as he fully accepts his fate for the crime he was sentenced for. I enjoyed the interaction of Fleming and Degannes as we see the descent of what a mom would do for their favorite child and a son who doesn’t need their son and is doing fine in his situation.
DC’s own Shannon Dorsey brought pure raw emotion as Tanya’s daughter, first born and Jasmine whose relationship with Tanya is strained but she carries a heavy burden that is slowly revealed in the play. She shows us the invisible trauma that some people faced through their lives and the way she copes with it, you feel for Jasmine to a certain point but it makes you question humanity at its finest.
Nethassiau deGannes truly carried the show as Tanya. Her performance throughout is one you couldn’t keep your eyes off even for a split second. She takes us through her spirit of determination that she will see her son even if she has to be a one-woman army against an entire prison police force in a complex yet amazing scene that keeps on you on the edge of your seat. Nethassiau is an actress you want to watch her on stage. She’s funny, dramatic and wields a flamethrower likes no other.
This play tackles on a plethora of subjects that we face sometimes every day, the trauma we witness in youth, how we were raised, our identity and do we carry the pain of the past into our present lives. By the end of the show, you feel that you want to discuss more about these issues and try to answer the questions that are known and unknown within us not only within the family’s blackness but also our own madness of life.
The day I saw the show, June 9th, I was invited a special “BLACKOUT” performance, meaning “This intentional healing space prioritizes the needs of Black-identifying audience members to be seen and celebrated in theatre spaces, and process complex questions about race and belonging while in community.” This is the first time I experienced this in local theatre, and I feel that these performances need to continue as this is a unique opportunity for black theatregoers to express and embrace their theatre going experience through a unique perspective. As Kristen Jackson, associate artistic director/connectivity director pointed out at the beginning of the show, we can laugh, cheer, cry at any moment. This is a space for us. And I couldn’t agree more! After the performance, the cast sat down on the stage to have an in-depth discussion with the audience in attendance. For those who wonder what a mother would do for their favorite child, Incendiary answered that question and more.
FINAL GRADE: A
Running Time: 80 minutes without intermission.
Incendiary plays through June 25, 2023, at Woolly Mammoth Theater Company, 641 D Street NW, Washington, DC. Tickets ($31–$55) may be purchased online, by phone at 202-393-3939 (Wednesday–Sunday, 12:00–6:00 p.m.), or in person at the Sales Office at 641 D Street NW, Washington, DC (Wednesday–Sunday, 12:00–6:00 p.m.).
The digital playbill for Incendiary is here.
COVID Safety: Masks are now optional in all public spaces at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company. We still encourage anyone who would like to wear a mask to please do so and will have masks available for those who need one. Woolly’s full COVID policy is available here.