Elizabeth Van Dyke
Written and directed by Elizabeth Van Dyke.
Sweet Mama Stringbean" was the name that attached itself to teenaged Ethel Waters when she started singing in nightclubs back in 1913. But Waters of "The Member of the Wedding" and "Cabin in the Sky" became anything but lanky.
The odds of finding a mother-and-daughter team to play the young and old Ethel are not high, yet here they are at the Henry Street Settlement. Sandra Reaves-Phillips (“Rollin’ on the T.O.B.A.”) has the look of the older Waters, with that same smile that can light up a room. Marishka Shanice Phillips, who appears to be in her mid-30s, doesn’t look like Ethel but has the requisite spirit. Most importantly, they can both sing, shaking the rafters on occasion.
Turner leans heavily on flashbacks. Waters, circa 1957, is old, unemployable and tipping the scales at 350 pounds. Where did her life go wrong? Ghostly images of her mother are outspoken: Ethel forsook God for mammon, which the play illustrates through a series of scenes from the life of Sweet Mama Stringbean.