Written by Judi Ann Mason

Directed by Eileen J. Morris

APRIL 25 - MAY 24, 2009


(L-R) Kendrick "Kay" Brown, Joyce Anastasia Murray (seated), Byron Jacquet  and Bebe Wilson star in Livin' Fat Now Showing at the Ensemble Theatre through May 24th, 2009.  Photo by David Bray Photography.




A Review of the Comedy Livin’ Fat at the Ensemble Theatre

Written by Judi Ann Mason and Directed by Eileen J. Morris


By Theresa Pisula
April 30th, 2009
Houston, Texas

Judi Ann Mason was born February 2nd in Shreveport, Louisiana and is an American TV writer, producer and playwright.  While attending Grambling State University she won the Norman Lear Award for comedy writing from the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts for her play LIVIN’ FAT.  Her TV credits include Good Times, Sanford and Son, A Different World, Beverly Hills 90210, I’ll Fly Away, American Gothic, Generations and Guiding Light. 




It is no wonder that LIVIN’ FAT directed by Eileen J. Morris playing at the Ensemble Theatre through May 24, 2009 is as great as any All-American play running in the theatre circuit right now.  Good Times are back and it’s playing at the Ensemble Theatre, baby!!!  The evening began with both my BFF’s Ana Martinez and Judy Githae as we got off our tedious 9-to-5 job and headed out to the Canyon Café at the Galleria for Happy Hour.  After a few drinks and a few bites of their famous spicy chips and salsa this side of the Mexican border, we proceeded to go to the Ensemble Theatre at 3535 Main Street Houston, Texas. 

Now this evening is a real treat because after we got there and picked up our tickets, we were served with wine and cheese as they traditionally do at the Ensemble theatre every premiere night.  The lobby is decorated with tables dressed in purple floor-length table cloths lined with brown-colored chiffon with gold piping.  Beautiful fresh-cut flower centerpieces were all around us in spring colors of deep reds, purple, bright yellows, blues and greens.  The ambience is terrific as the guests mingled around the lobby for the fabulous and fun-anticipated evening. 




(In Order of Appearance)


Mary Lee Cooper (Big Mama)……………………..Joyce Anastasia Murray

Biddie Steen Carter (Mama)…………………………………..Bebe Wilson

Calvin Lee Carter (Daddy)……………………………..……Byron Jacquet

Candy Carter……………………………..………………Estella Henderson

David Lee Carter……………………….………………….Kendrick Brown

Eberneezer Goodson (Boo)……………………….Joseph “Joe P.” Palmore




The excitement before the start of the show was building.  I spoke in length to Robert J. Ross, Jr. who is the Audience Development Manager for the Ensemble Theatre.  After we were seated, the president of the Board of Directors of the Ensemble Theatre Mr. Hasting Stewart was doing the birthday announcements and introductions prior to the show.  He recognized 2 lifetime members of the Ensemble Theatre who were present sitting in the audience. 


EILEEN J. MORRIS, Artistic Director of The Ensemble Theatre


Artistic Director Eileen J. Morris also got onstage and spoke to everyone.  She talked about how special LIVIN’ FAT is and how it will take you back to the groovy 1970’s.  She spoke of her relationship with the playwright Judi Ann Mason and when the Ensemble Theatre first produced LIVIN’ FAT onstage 27 years ago.  Eileen Morris reminisces, “More importantly the ‘70s were a time of some of the best music with groups like The Whispers, The Temptin’ Temptations, The Supremes, Chilites, Natalie Cole, just to name a few, rocked our worlds.  The dances were off the hook and the clothes were polyester and bell bottoms, platform shoes and hot pants…”  She also made special mention of the fact that the song LIVIN’ FAT played at the end of the show is an original by Sound Designer / Operator Adrian Washington.


The setting of LIVIN’ FAT takes place in the front room of the Carter Family’s house which can be described as quaint, humble and homely.  As the guests are seated in the theater the comedic setting becomes apparent as you see that the biggest piece of furniture is an old, wooden 26-inch TV console that sits on the floor.  On top of this old TV console is another TV – this time it’s a smaller 12-inch television with a wire hanger prominently sticking from the back working as a TV antenna. 


I distinctly remember one of those old wooden TV consoles that sat on the floor from our old house when I was growing up.  We used to have a black and white TV whose big knob in the front which changes the channel would constantly fall off.  This was back before we even had a remote control channel changer.  The TV knob fell off so many times we finally lost it forever.  We never got it fixed so we resorted to using a pair of hand pliers to change the channel.  It was pathetic.


As the play transpires, the audience finds out that the old TV console does not work (of course!) and that the smaller TV on top hardly works.  One would have to hit the smaller TV a few times before it starts getting a reception.  How is Big Mama supposed to watch her favorite TV shows in this pathetic situation?  Well, somehow she and the rest of the Carter family gets by in the “Black quarters” section of any southern town, USA. 


As in any Christian household, the portrait of Jesus Christ and the Last Supper is hanging in the Dining Room.  On top of the dinner table is a bowl of decorative plastic fruit, apples, grapes, etc.  Eileen J. Morris describes creating the set design is like drawing a big cartoon or comic book.  In the living room, one cannot miss the box of Ex-Lax sitting on top of the side table.  I can really relate. 


The scene opens with Big Mama looking out the window, being nosy.  Mary Lee Cooper or Big Mama is played by none other than Joyce Anastasia Murray.   Houston audiences have been delighted for years with her dramatic and comedic performances.  Besides being a regular actor at the Ensemble Theatre, she has performed on other Houston stages including Theatre Under the Stars and Stages Repertory Theatre.  Out of everyone in the cast, she is definitely my favorite as her character is the funniest and the cutest.  Her sarcastic wit cuts straight through the bone and at the same time being downright hilarious. 


Big Mama is very proud of her grandson David Lee who is dating “one of them back doctors,” a chiropractor.  Unfortunately, the TV is not working “it blew out last night.”  Mama played by Bebe Wilson, frets that the TV “stays broke” like they do.  She worries about the monthly phone bill which is at a staggering $29.18.  (Boy, those were the good ol’ days – I wish my phone bill was that low).  The teenage daughter Candy Carter played by Estella Henderson is longing for an 8-track stereo component.  Her mother calls this stereo a devil box and tries to convince her daughter there is no need for such trivial things especially when they can't afford it.


David Lee played by Kendrick Brown enters the scene and tells his best friend Boo Goodson about the large amount of money he inadvertently picked up during a robbery at the bank where he works as a janitor.  Even though a college graduate and forced to work as a janitor, David Lee tries to do the right thing by providing for his family.  In secret, he gives his teenage sister Candy a new stereo and his grandma got a brand new TV.  His friend Boo gets new clothes.  Director Eileen Morris pointed out that Joe Palmore who plays Boo had to take a training class on how to wear platform shoes. 


Due to the family’s shock, surprise and confusion, Mama wants to call the police.  Big Mama asks, “WHAT FOR?  Don’t you pick up that phone!?!”  Not exactly knowing where the material presents came from, Big Mama explains to Mama (her daughter) that this is the will of God and that “This is God’s gift to us.  Haven’t you heard of miracles?”  But the mystery causes some type of undue stress and Big Mama eats the Ex-Lax like its candy.


We break for intermission and as we went out to the lobby of the Ensemble Theatre we were greeted with the most delicious desserts.  Sweet savory confections such as walnut cakes, poppy seed cakes, blueberry cream cakes and double chocolate cakes already pre-sliced.  My friends had a plate of fresh fruits such as sweet strawberries and grapes served with a blueberry yogurt dip.  They expressed that when you coat the fruits and top them with the creamy yogurt dip, the taste is simply divine.  Fancy sterling silverware with the most intricate Victorian design was served with the delicious pastries.  For beverages, we drank either white or red wine and assorted juices.  Or if you were my friend Judy Githae you would have had the Coke-wine which is Coke mixed with Chardonnay. 


The Ensemble Theatre’s Executive Director Janette L. Cosley approaches me and makes a comment about this ‘70s show.  She said that the young actors weren’t used to the rotary telephones in the day, a far cry from the multi-tasking cell phones they are used to today.  And don’t forget the fact that we had one land telephone line per household.  Jeeezzzz, those were the days, huh?  That was like before we had Caller ID and you didn't know who was calling when you picked up the phone.  Remember?


When we get back to the show after half-time, the Carter family accuses David Lee of the ultimate dirty deed, stealing.  “It’s too late!!!  Satan’s got his mind!”  David Lee tries to explain to everyone in his family, “I found it!  I just found it!”  Big Mama reasons to all the doubters that it’s “Finders keepers, losers weepers.”  The family’s reluctance to participate with this sudden new-found fortune due to their moral concerns definitely tests their scruples. 


The father, masterfully played by Byron Jacquet, who is a deacon in the church, decides that the best action is to pray over the dilemma.  As David Lee is waiting for his daddy’s decision to possibly turn him into the authorities and maybe go to jail, he and Boo Goodman concoct a devious plan to protect their assets.  In the end, after Daddy fervently prays to God for the best decision to handle the situation, he comes to a conclusion.  But ultimately, the Lord lets everyone off the hook.  He makes it easy on the Carter family to deal with the situation. 


The Lord does work in mysterious ways.  And this time He is working His mysterious ways for the Carter family.  To everyone far and wide, you are invited to join the fun in LIVIN’ FAT this witty, incisive and hilarious comedy playing through May 24th, 2009.  And as playwright Judi Ann Mason said, “The play had taken on a life of its own.  Black theatres across the country passed it along one performance run after the other – and one particular theatre was among the first, Houston’s Ensemble Theatre.  That was 27 years ago when the curtain went up with George Hawkins as director – and here we are again with a reprise.  I am honored to celebrate the anniversary of this great American theatre - the one that has become the benchmark for African American Theatre in the 21st Century.  Long Live The Ensemble Theatre!” 


The cast of Livin' Fat: Kendrick "Kay" Brown, Joyce Anastasia Murray, Joseph "Joe P." Palmore, Estella Henderson, Byron Jacquet  and Bebe Wilson star in Livin' Fat Now Showing at the Ensemble Theatre through May 24th, 2009.  LIVIN' FAT is written by Judi Ann Mason and directed by Eileen J. Morris.  Photo by David Bray Photography.