Review “The Most Spectacularly Lamentable Trial of Miz Martha Washington” (Steppenwolf Theatre): Verdict is in… Must See!

Wednesday, September 14, 2022 Permalink 0

Steppenwolf Theatre Company presents the Chicago premier of Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright James Ijames’ fantastical play THE MOST SPECTACULARLY LAMENTABLE TRIAL OF MIZ MARTHA WASHINGTON.

Ijames knows how to tell a story! His thoroughly entertaining tale imagines a fever delirious Martha Washington being confronted by her slaves. The underlying premise is the actual provision in George Washington’s will. Washington had designated the Mount Vernon slaves be freed upon the death of his wife. When Martha is sick with fever, her hallucinations goad her to redeem herself by releasing her slaves. She is haunted by Abigail Adams, Betsy Ross, her husband and her own paranoia that her slaves are plotting her demise to escalate the terms of their emancipation.      

Director Whitney White masterfully paces this tight and with conviction. The swirling action revolves around Martha’s bed. White’s superb ensemble (Celeste M. Cooper, Sydney Charles, Carl Clemons-Hopkins, Nikki Crawford, Victor Musoni, Donovan Session) challenge Miz Martha (played by Cindy Gold) to acknowledge the atrocity of slavery. The versatile cast morph into multiple, colorful characters. Charles and Cooper captivate as household slaves and then morph into Martha’s contemporaries. As Martha’s ‘property’, their comments are sidebar snarks. As Abigail and Betsy, their disdain is deliciously elegant, marring and direct. An outstanding Session plays both Sucky Boy and a sharp-tongued lawyer with distinction. And Hacks’ TV fans will love Clemons-Hopkins’ presence and performance. He is particularly hilarious as George Washington. 

The entire ensemble is top-notch as they force Miz Martha to examine her legacy. The impressive Gold justifies her innocence, denies her responsibility, clings to being willfully obtuse and continually pivots back to demanding mistress. Her persona equally exasperates and angers. The ensemble responds to Gold with laughter… loud laughter! 

Ijames shares that his use of laughter in his play is ‘not light or fun. It’s more like showing one’s teeth.’ As a contemporary audience, we can’t help but laugh along with the ensemble as we embrace the lunacy of the situation. We laugh sharing a common belief that slavery is wrong. Yet beneath the laughter and beyond the clever storytelling, Ijames pushes us to recognize and grapple with our country’s history. His show is a perfect promotion for Critical Race Theory to be taught.      

THE MOST SPECTACULARLY LAMENTABLE TRIAL OF MIZ MARTHA WASHINGTON is highly recommended! It is indeed a most spectacularly lamentable trial of the country’s past. The verdict is in. This show is a must-see!!    

Running Time: Ninety minutes with no intermission

Steppenwolf Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted

Written by James Ijames

Directed by Whitney White

Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 8pm

Saturdays and Sundays at 3 pm

Thru October 9th 

For more information or tickets

Photos by Michael Brosilow

For more Chicago theatre information and reviews, please visit Theatre in Chicago

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