The Sensational Sea Mink-ettes. Photo by Teresa Castracane.
0 5 min 2 mths

Every show that I’ve seen at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company is not what I expected, and I say that as a compliment. 

Their current production, The Sensational Sea Mink-ettes, is prescribed as a comedic tale of an HBCU dance team as they prepare to perform at the upcoming Homecoming game in front of students, alumni, and faculty. Yet something more sinister is afoot as the women battle their inner demons… and some external ones too.

Timeliness: 8/10 (What’s a 10? Merchant of Venice)

In the playbill, playwright Vivian J.O. Barnes discusses the connection between the mind and the body. The women focus on controlling their bodies through mental mastery and a lot of dance practice. Dance captain Shantee imposes a high standard on the other dancers, and an even higher one for herself. If they just practice harder, the performance will be sensational. 

This storyline felt like a metaphor for working in America. It’s the idea that we just have to keep working, and we’ll be able to stop at some undetermined end state: the end of the project, the end of busy season, or even retirement. Our hussle culture doesn’t look favorably upon rest or low productivity. 

As the women struggle to master their dance steps, it seems that their minds are overpowered by darker thoughts that they don’t feel comfortable letting the others in on. Barnes explores themes such as mental health, suicidal ideation, and body issues. If the women just make it to Homecoming, everything will be ok. 

Technical Execution: 9/10 (What’s a 10? Hamilton)

While battling their inner demons, it turns out some unknown force is also at play as the women start disappearing one by one. 

The technical direction heighted the sense of suspense and anticipation as the dancers started disappearing. A burnt out light bulb, a black out, a crashing set piece. All of these created an undercurrent of eeriness that I have never experienced on stage. physically felt anxious at certain pivotal moments; it was akin to reading a thriller. 

The Sensational Sea Mink-ettes. Photo by Teresa Castracane. Lauren Fraites, Kalen Robinson, Khalia Muhammed.
The Sensational Sea Mink-ettes. Photo by Teresa Castracane. Lauren Fraites, Kalen Robinson, Khalia Muhammed.

Originality: 9/10 (What’s a 10? Hadestown)

It’s never clear where the women disappear to, or what force is taking them. The open ended nature of the antagonist is similar to the open ended message, which I consider quintessential Woolly Mammoth.

Like in Public Obscenities, each audience member will walk away with a different experience of the production. Some will see it as a comedic thriller, others will see it as highlighting mental health issues among black women. Barnes sees the story as an analysis of the mind-body and I had my own lessons on productivity in America.

Fun/Engaging: 8/10 (What’s a 10? Six)

Even though I’ve described this show as an anxiety-inducing thriller, there is a significant amount of comedic dialogue between the characters that keeps the tone lighthearted. Dancers Gabby and Racquel have a constant banter between them that had the audience laughing out loud. 

Also, I continue to love what I see as a new trend of 90 minute performances (no intermission!). I find that this length can make theater more accessible for younger audiences or those who don’t have a full evening to devote to being away. 

Final Grade: B+

The Sensational Sea Mink-ettes plays at Woolly Mammoth (641 D ST. NW) through March 3, 2024. Tickets start at $34 and are available at, by phone at (202) 393-3939, and via email at [email protected].    

Running Time: 90 minutes, no intermission

CONTENT TRANSPARENCY: THE SENSATIONAL SEA MINK-ETTES involves discussion and depiction of mental health struggles as experienced by Black women including anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, and disordered eating. This play also includes profanity, discussion of masturbation, and sexually explicit references.

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