By Carrington Whigham
Tallahassee, FL — Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University’s (FAMU), Essential Theater started the 2021-22 season with rave reviews featuring playwright Beth Turner’s Sweet Mama Stringbean, under the direction of Evelyn Tyler.
Turner experienced first-hand the Essential Theaters version of her play during Wednesday’s performance. The show opened leading us into the story of singer/actress Ethel Waters’ life, including her abusive relationships. People clapped and cheered throughout the entire play.
The main character, Ethel Waters, portrayed by both Jade T. Livingston (older Ethel) and Abigail Magnus (younger Ethel), had the responsibility of playing the protagonist of the play. Both contributed to the deliverance of this story of revival and savior.
Journalism student Janelle Sears, who watched the play Wednesday, says she really enjoyed the development of two characters as one, and how the narrative contributed to the story line.
“I really liked the dual roles that show what happened in her career,” Sears said. “I loved that the story was about a real life person, that I did not have much insight on before the play.”
Ethel takes the audience on a journey as she is dreaming and reminiscing about her days when she was a performer. While dreaming, she interacts with the “younger Ethel,” as they play back the happy and sad times. The dreams that were not so pretty, made her confront her current situation. Those dreams really made her diagnose what steps she took in the past, that led up to her not so proud, current situation,
According to Tyler, as director of the show, says she wanted the overall message to be about the importance of never being complacent. Though she says multiple themes jumped out to her, there were a few she absolutely had to highlight.
“I want the message to be to never settle on past success,” Tyler said. “Especially if you still have life in your body. There is future success and more things that can and will be done.”
Tyler said through all these important messages that stand out, the most important one that she received while transferring the script to the stage was the message of Jesus Christ.
The message of Jesus Christ was prominent in the story as Ethel Waters goes through a journey of rebirth, finally releasing her past baggage to progress forward.
Livingston, who portrayed the character of the “older Ethel,” received many comments about her stage presence and vocal ability. Livingston, only being a high schooler from Quincy, FL, is what surprised the audience the most, considering her strong performance; and being cast as the lead role in a collegiate production.
Trinity Martin, a freshman broadcast journalism student, says she enjoyed the play. Like many, she was very shocked that the lead role was a high schooler and delivered such a strong performance. Martin says she was blown away.
“Jade killed it,” Martin said. “Every time she did something on stage, you could tell she understood the assignment.”
The show opens Friday, Oct. 22, 2021, at 8.p.m and has received great feedback so far from students, faculty, and community spectators who came to enjoy a night at the theater.