Review: ‘The Wash’ is a fresh spin on inspiring chapter in Atlanta history

Synchronicity and Impact theaters copresenting premiere of Atlanta playwright Kelundra Smith’s sharp script about Atlanta Washerwomen’s Strike of 1881.
Jamila Turner (from left), Kenedi Deal and Makallen Kelley as washerwomen striking against unfair wages in "The Wash." Courtesy of Casey Gardner Ford

Credit: Photo by Casey Gardner Ford

Credit: Photo by Casey Gardner Ford

Jamila Turner (from left), Kenedi Deal and Makallen Kelley as washerwomen striking against unfair wages in "The Wash." Courtesy of Casey Gardner Ford

“The Wash,” running at Synchronicity Theatre through June 30 and then at Impact Theatre from July 10-28, is a terrific, witty play that brings a lesser-known chapter of Atlanta history to life.

The production, which is full of fun dialogue, clever staging, vibrant design and great characters, feels inspirational without coming across as tediously instructive or too heavy. It never wallows in trauma, though there is a moment set in the aftermath of violence.

Instead, the audience gets caught up in the mission of these characters, based upon the real women who organized the Washerwomen Strike of 1881, a successful labor protest led by Black women throughout the city.

In Kelundra Smith’s sharp script, Anna (Tanya Freeman) owns a house in the Fourth Ward, where she and other washerwomen take in the laundry of many city residents — yet they aren’t being paid what they’re owed for the work. Many customers stiff them altogether or trade them beans and rice, as if Black women were the lowest rung on the economic ladder. In frustration, the women begin refusing work, which raises a literal stink throughout the city.

But these multigenerational characters do more than protest; they live and breathe. Better, they joke and gossip, supporting one another through everyday troubles beyond the strike.

One of the washerwomen, played by Kenedi Deal, despairs over unfair work conditions in the Fourth Ward. Courtesy of Casey Gardner Ford

Credit: Photo by Casey Gardner Ford

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Credit: Photo by Casey Gardner Ford

The ensemble ofThe Wash” has excellent chemistry.

In addition to Freeman’s strong work as protagonist Anna, the show features a scene-stealing performance from Nevaina as Jeanie, a blunt, hilarious older woman who is more interested in other people’s personal business than in the strike.

After another actress left the play, according to Synchronicity, Nevaina stepped into the role, learning her extensive dialogue and blocking one week before opening night. She’s incredible.

Kenedi Deal, Jamila Turner and Makallen Kelley, portraying the three younger workers in the laundry, do beautifully layered work. Smith’s script defines each character’s individual goals, then lets their differences in background and temperament create natural tensions.

In the second act, Charis Sellick appears as a washerwoman from Cabbagetown, her race and privilege creating new layers of conflict.

Jamila Turner in a scene of release. Courtesy of Casey Gardner Ford

Credit: Photo by Casey Gardner Ford

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Credit: Photo by Casey Gardner Ford

Still, some of the most remarkable scenes in The Wash” are without any dialogue — scenes that simply show the harsh, difficult work these women did together in grueling temperatures for hours. It’s remarkable world-building, directed by Brenda Porter and choreographed by Dawn Axam, and it immerses the audience into what is really at stake.

Use of screen projections by Kimberly Binns during scene transitions help provide context and the larger impact of the strike, while the play remains squarely focused on these women.

Other design elements of note are the crisp period costumes by L. Nyrobi Moss, essential in a play about clean clothes.

Come out for The Wash.” It is rich, interesting storytelling, inspired by our city.


THEATER REVIEW

“The Wash”

At Synchronicity Theatre through June 30. 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 5 p.m. Sundays. Adults, $35-$45; students, $30-$40. Peachtree Pointe, 1545 Peachtree St., Atlanta. 404.484.8636, synchrotheatre.com. Also presented at Impact Theatre in Hapeville from July 10-28. impacttheatreatlanta.org

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Credit: ArtsATL

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Credit: ArtsATL

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