FROM GUMBO TO MUMBO, by Drew Anderson and Dwayne Lawson-Brown, directed by Duane Richards II. Photo by Cameron Whitman Photography.

DC Theatre Scene: FROM GUMBO TO MUMBO

The tangy DC streets or a soulful bowl of NOLA. From Gumbo to Mumbo celebrates each from its first notes — for what writers and performers Drew Anderson and Dwayne Lawson-Brown do is something just shy of sing. This show is about their roots and life routes. Which, predictably, also include a lot of pain. From being men (who suppress emotion). From being Black. From being Black men. In America. But, there is also joy. Love and friendship.

From the on, it’s verbal linguistics at peak form — lyrical, rhythmic, explosive, clever, and biting. Each segment a different flavor, from a take on Family Feud where the two spar over the superiority of the made-in-DC Mumbo sauce or Gumbo (“swamp stew”), New Orleans’ hometown dish, to a straight-up song about New Orleans.

As good as Lawson-Brown and Anderson are together, the best pieces are solo endeavors. Lawson-Brown’s “These Shoes” — a spoken word poem delivered in a voiceover — shows how he can move. As only a break-dancer can. He weaves and bops, throws roundhouse kicks, and steps, taking us on his journey. … Anderson dons an apron for a piece we’ll call “Bisquick”, wherein he imagines he’s a flapjack. Bottom of the stack. Burned. Being fed crock from Betty and Pillsbury.

Anderson and Lawson-Brown prove they’ve got some acting skills in a few pieces, but the heavier vignettes, where they stick closer to spoken word poetry and hip hop performances, succeed more. In those, the power with which they imbue their words almost make them feel like prayers for peace.

Even at their most vulnerable and critical, Anderson and Lawson-Brown do bring touches of humor (Lawson-Brown’s observations of a Trader Joe’s — that ubiquitous mediocre grocery chain — taking the place of a high school for the mathematical and science gifted is great). This iteration of Gumbo is also definitely not for the kids (cursing, more overtly political, etc.). The live stream aspect, save for a few sound issues that made the volume drop, actually worked well — smooth scene transitions, some nice camera work that added to the performance.  

Delivering a show like this to an empty stage can’t be easy. Normally, this show, sans COVID, would feed off of the energy of people, growing louder and bolder and wilder with the emotions it elicits. And being that it is designed to elicit emotions, emotions it would well earn in front of a live audience.

From Gumbo to Mumbo is fresh, lively, and intellectually and emotionally stimulating.

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