FORT WORTH -- It may take a village to raise a child, but Shay Youngblood's Shakin' the Mess Outta Misery, now at the Jubilee Theatre, makes the case that it takes only a handful of strong-willed black women (aka "big mamas") to do the job right.
This 1988 play charms on a number of levels thanks to a production that overflows with fine performances that deliver both the humor and heart of the show with equal success.
The focus is Daughter (Charlet Dupar), an adolescent who learns about love and life from "the" Big Mama (Mary Keaton-Jordan) and friends and relatives -- May Allen, Michele Rene, Genine Ware, Karen Petite, Evette Perry Buchanan and Olivia Morrow Payne, who all play multiple characters.
Director Phyllis Cicero does an excellent job of interpreting Youngblood's script and getting the most out of her wonderful cast. She controls time and space exceptionally well throughout and gives this piece a much easier flow than would seem possible. The story unfolds in vignettes but never feels disjointed.
All the performances are impressive. Dupar, a young adult, has the daunting task of playing a teenager. But she pulls it off beautifully, capturing her character's youthful movement and wide-eyed innocence.
Keaton-Jordan is also strong in the role of the woman who most affects Daughter's life. She is well-matched by the fine work of the other actresses. Everybody steals a scene or two, but nobody walks away with the whole thing. And that balance is perhaps the most praiseworthy aspect of Cicero's direction.
Of course it doesn't hurt that the women have such strong material to work with. There are a lot of laughs, some drama and even a bit of singing. But whatever the theatrical tool, Shay's work soars.
There are some shortcomings and missed opportunities, but on the whole, this is a winning production.