Reviewed by Sandi Durell

When you’re a 110 year old witch, but feeling pretty young and hot and living in Harlem, you can cast a spell anywhere and everywhere you darn please. And Sowa, the narrator played by Tony Award nominee Lonette McKee, does just that with her red gravy. Why she’s been just about every kind of woman imaginable says she – Louisiana voodoo queen, white Hollywood star and an African warrior to name a few. Sowa may have a thing for Sapphire (Jonathan Peck) but he also has a thing for a spiffy-looking vamp witch named Luwanna (Kimberly “Q”).

The play, written by new playwright Diane Richards (also a song and screen writer), a member of the Harlem Writers Guild, brings together southern folklore and vivid figures, especially the females. There is an outstanding performance by Toni Seawright as Windy Willow, a tough talkin’, boisterous, I don’t give a damn voodoo gal herself, who isn’t quite sure of her sexual preferences saying she’s a “homosexual man trapped in a woman’s body.” Dressed up in a red suit and fedora, looking like the devil himself, is Belozah (Kene Holliday), who’s got that sly I’m gonna get you look, and he does with his wit, charm and chatter that it’s OK to be dirty/nasty and still make it through the Pearly Gates.

 Gary E. Vincent plays Rev. Mose Walker who more than likes his lady congregants and Aaron Fried plays a double role as Anxiety Man (afraid the blacks are going to take over the country) and a European Jewish baker Bernstein, who relates stories of the Holocaust, and is the catalyst for a company “Hava Nagila.” The rhythmic undulating dancing of Ula, played by Iris Wilson, is top notch to the beat of the drum by David D. Wright.

All the while Sowa, in her Harlem apartment, set up like an apothecary with interesting voodoo chairs, skulls and bottles of witch-craft (set design John Scheffler) gives voice to the vignettes of stories of these colorful characters. Occasionally there is background music “I Put a Spell on You.”

Guided by the expert hand of director Woodie King, Jr. for the New Federal Theatre, “Sowa’s Red Gravy” is an appealing, albeit too long, stew of exaggerated tales that is cause for a fair amount of laughter throughout. It’s always especially nice to see Lonette McKee on stage as her appearances are too few and far between.

“Sowa’s Red Gravy” Castillo Theatre, 543 West 42nd St., NYC

Photo: Jerry Goodstein