Time marches on

Family, history and home cooking meet at Mixed Blood Theatre

Amy Danielson

Serene Madeline Adams, or Granny as she is better-known, holds her family together with an unwavering sense of morality, a selfless commitment to family and an incredible recipe for a traditional Guyanese dish – salt fish and bakes.

Her grandson, Gavin Lawrence, wrote a play which centers around his family’s matriarch. “Salt Fish and Bakes” is staged in Granny’s home. The venerable lady continuously weaves like a bee back to her central location: the kitchen. Here, she teaches the audience how to make salt fish and bakes. It’s like Emeril Lagasse with a different kind of “Bam!” Granny, played by Greta Ogelsby, uses humor and years of experience to create an exciting atmosphere around her stove. She constantly warns that if you cover the pan too tightly, the fish will “boil over and stink up the place.” But it’s not exactly like a cooking show, even though she does solicit responses from the audience. It feels more intimate, as if she is teaching one of her grandchildren part of the family’s heritage.

The play alternates between candid moments between the children who live with Granny, solemn scenes involving Granny’s care of her dying daughter and flashbacks to Granny’s youth. Woven into the fabric of the production are stories of Granny as a child on the Pomeroon River and early days with her husband and children. These reflective moments seem to make days easier on Granny as she struggles with losing her daughter and disciplining her mischievous grandchildren.

Lawrence, Thomas W. Jones II and Karen Malina White oscillate between playing Granny’s naughty grandchildren and delivering short, reflective monologues about life with Granny from a present-day context: “She only feared the wrath of God Ö and frogs.”

As children, Jones, White and Lawrence bring an unexpected sweetness to their roles while looking ridiculous. Most of the time, Lawrence plays himself as a little boy with a protruding posterior and bottom lip extended. He asks questions like, “Can God see my wee wee before it comes out?” At first, it’s merely laughable to watch these adults climb into miniature bunk beds as children, but by the end of the show, their childlike personas seem completely natural and uninhibited. Aditi Kapil, who plays several different characters throughout the production, makes playing a baby seem effortless despite the fact that her long extremities protrude in every direction.

Almost seamlessly, the play moves from moments of everyday silliness between children to the seriousness of death. Granny completes the meal in time for the relatives to come and celebrate the life of their ailing aunt. The cast walks through the audience carrying plates of the prepared meal while chanting, “Hold her up this night.”

In the end, it is the sincerity Lawrence brings to “Salt Fish and Bakes” which makes the show a success. He has a story to tell, and he does so with out letting ego or pretension obstruct it. Instead, he realizes the value in relating a simple story, one which varies from family to family but caries the universal elements of love, home and memory.

“Salt Fish and Bakes” plays through March 16 at Mixed Blood Theatre,

(612) 338-6131

Amy Danielson welcomes comments at [email protected]