Performing Arts

‘Sassy Mamas’ pursue younger guys in attempt to flip the script

Catherine Williams is wooed by Scott Wesley in M Ensemble’s season-opening ‘Sassy Mamas.’
Catherine Williams is wooed by Scott Wesley in M Ensemble’s season-opening ‘Sassy Mamas.’ Photo provided to the Miami Herald

When it comes to romance, older guys pursuing younger gals — sometimes much younger women — is no big thing as far as society sees it. But mature women, a.k.a. cougars, going after hot younger guys? That’s still less common, and a more recent development.

True, it’s been 51 years since Anne Bancroft’s Mrs. Robinson initiated an affair with Dustin Hoffman’s Benjamin in “The Graduate;” 20 years since Angela Bassett’s Stella found love with Taye Diggs’ Winston in “How Stella Got Her Groove Back.” Yet flipping the script on the old guy-young gal paradigm has taken a long, long time.

Award-winning playwright Celeste Bedford Walker does just that in “Sassy Mamas,” the flawed season opener for Miami’s M Ensemble.

The play’s female characters are three strong, accomplished older women. The male characters, who become the objects of the ladies’ pursuit, are ripped hotties who eventually remove their shirts (to murmurs of approval from the audience, which seems just fine with the role-reversal objectification of the guys).

Set in Washington, D.C., in 2013-14, “Sassy Mamas” centers on women who are or have been power players.

Wilhemina Calloway Sorenson (Catherine Williams) is a never-married Condoleezza Rice type who has been a university president, an ambassador and who is now a high-level security adviser to President Barack Obama.

Jo Billie Massey (Paulette Dozier) is a hospital administrator who hasn’t fully begun to grieve losing her husband to cancer. Mary Wooten (Carolyn Johnson) is the ex-wife of an ambassador who lived the cliché of leaving her for a younger woman.

Intentionally in Jo Billie’s case, surprisingly for the others, the women find themselves in relationships with younger, uniformly gorgeous men.

Jo Billie hooks up with LaDonte (Diamos Demerritt), a hospital custodian who comes with the baggage of a baby mama and a kid. She moves him in after he signs a contract agreeing to her terms, which include shutting up whenever she barks “zip it!” and treating him like a human sex toy.

Wilhemina is won over by Wes Washington (Scott Wesley), a football player-turned-journalist who is sent to interview her and who tosses ethics out the window when he falls for his accomplished subject.

Mary has the option of marriage to a wealthy former classmate, but she finds her attention shifting to Colby (André Morissette), her sensitive and adventurous young gardener.

Truth be told, “Sassy Mamas” is a trifle, and a not-very-well written one at that. It’s the kind of comedy you might find on the urban theater circuit, full of clichés and barely sketched in characters. It’s never quite clear, for example, exactly what role Wilhemina plays in the Obama administration.

More problematic is M Ensemble’s production, which represents no one’s best work, though the guys are good and funny, and Dozier seems to relish playing the domineering Jo Billie.

Director Jerry Maple Jr. has an under-rehearsed cast. Though Mitchell Ost’s set contains three distinct, upscale playing areas, the actors have a hard time navigating it. Lines aren’t firmly etched in every actor’s brain — Williams particularly fumbles and mumbles hers — thus elongating an already lengthy play. Some of the pauses between scenes to allow the actors to change costumes seem to last forever. The way-long first act seems to end at least three separate times — but no such luck. The sound is sometimes so abysmally inadequate that you’re tempted to ask, “Could you please repeat that?”

M Ensemble, which earned seven well-deserved Carbonell Award nominations for its work last year, generally creates reliable, interesting theater. But nearly every company misses now and then, and that’s the case with “Sassy Mamas.”

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If you go

▪ What: ‘Sassy Mamas’ by Celeste B. Walker.

▪ Where: M Ensemble production at the Sandrell Rivers Theater, 6101 NW Seventh Ave., Miami.

▪ When: 8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday, through Feb. 4.

▪ Cost: $26 ($21 students and seniors).

▪ Information: 786-773-3161 or www.themensemble.com.

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