From Gumbo to Mumbo

Keegan Theatre returns for a virtual fall season that looks a little bit different, but still packs an emotional punch

Within the first few minutes of Keegan Theatre’s From Gumbo to Mumbo, I was struck with a sense of panic: how could I, a New York Jew, give a fair review to a show that heavily leaned on a discussion of gumbo and bacon, and said something tasted like it was from New York as a form of an insult? I’ve covered and enjoyed art that doesn’t regard me as the target audience, but I definitely felt a bit in over my head.

But, by the third segment, the poetry of Drew Anderson and Dwayne Lawson-Brown’s words drew me in, and hooked me. And it clicked: From Gumbo to Mumbo is like my favorite books of poetry – a little rough when you’re still learning the rhythms, but ultimately captivating. Anderson and Lawson-Brown’s command of language is stunning, and I found myself wishing for a copy of the script to pour over so I could marvel at their unique blend of colloquial speech, pop culture references, and classical literary allusion – a lesson in DC slang alongside references to Play Station and Greek mythology doesn’t sound like a natural fit, but in Anderson and Lawson-Brown’s hands it’s the perfect encapsulation of this moment in history. The linguistic juxtapositions in this script – the connections between Shakespeare and Mr. Ed, modern song lyrics to historical events, literacy to capitalism to race to Marvel comics – are absolutely stunning, and I feel like the audience could discover a new, intriguing turn of phrase with each viewing.

The show, directed by visionary Duane Richards II, is … both a love letter and a memory, a hope and a reckoning. Nothing is off-limits – politics, police brutality, gentrification, mental health, masculinity, wealth, status, food, sports, love, education, opportunity, bullying, history – and every topic, every reference, is addressed honestly and eloquently. To pull this off is a tremendous feat, especially in our current climate, but its ability to do so in a way that communicates reverence, frustration, and hope is what makes From Gumbo to Mumbo absolutely artful.