Reviews - Plays

Where We Stand

"Where We Stand is experienced as a charismatic feat; in some magical way it feels as though Grays is reciting the entire play directly to you, while never breaking eye-contact. This drugging, bewildering quality comes from the contact-high great performance can give you," - Vulture

"Where We Stand Reveals a Community on the Precipice of a Big Decision. With sensitivity and classically great storytelling skills, Grays asks us to reconsider our notions of justice and revenge, and the perilous chasm between them." - TheaterMania

A Pied Piper story that doubles as a boldfaced allegory about class and community, Produced by WP Theater in association with Baltimore Center Stage, and directed by Tamilla Woodard, the show is unusually understated, despite the fanciful tale at its heart. There’s an intentionally rudimentary story-time feel to it, and Woodard’s direction emphasizes the intimate interactions between Grays and her audience. She is an affable, uninhibited performer, whether as narrator or as the mysterious stranger, peddling the fable to us via enchanting lyrics and flourishes of humor" - NY Times

This play has heart, rhyme and a message about mankind! This one-person, very beautifully written and performed, play is a blessing bestowed on audiences by its writer/performer Donnetta Lavinia Grays. - New Amsterdam News

"Where We Stand is a gem of a show. It sparkles from every direction you shine a light on it. Whether it is on playwright Donnetta Lavinia Grays’ lyrical yet powerful writing style, director Tamilla Woodard’s inclusive and imaginative staging, Grays’ compelling and charismatic stage presence in this one-person show, or the thoughtful and absorbing questions the play poses, there is a glow from every facet the light hits. FIVE STARS" - New York Theater Guide

"The modulation of mood and expression all seem organic—the man does not sing because he randomly decides to break out into song; he sings because the moment demands such expression—as this character shows the many sides of himself that his neighbors had ignored for years. In allowing the man to tell his story, Lavinia Grays’s script paints a nuanced portrait of a lonely and weary man laying himself bare before his neighbors." - Exeunt

The writing is impressionistic and poetic, in verse and not, in couplets and not, but always supple and vivid, alive, present and active on a quest all its own. - The Riverdale Press

"Grays creates a world that’s hard to let go, but eventually we’re forced to choose between keeping that beautiful new town her character’s made, and allowing him to stay with us in it but watching it crumble. It seems as though the decision should be easy — it seems as though betraying Grays at this point would be like betraying a friend. But if we weren’t to walk out of the theater immediately afterward with no real consequences or threat to our happy, comfortable lives, I’m not sure the decision would be so easy." - Playtosee

Last Night and the Night Before

"Ten-year-old Sam and her parents are the fractured family at the heart of Donnetta Lavinia Grays’ loving, richly performed drama...The play’s truths — lovely, complicated, bloodied — unfold subtly...For all the hurt permeating the play, there is also humor and tenderness...In addition to writing, Gray acts. (Her numerous credits include Broadway, film and television.) The roles she’s written here feel like a gift from one performer to another." - Denver Post

“You don’t have to pay exorbitant New York City prices to witness the birth of a stunning new play.Last Night and the Night Before,” offers a cunning blend of poetry, drama and keen insight. It’s also rigorously funny...Last Night and the Night Before” will leave you exhilarated and a little more aware of the human condition. - Hollywood in Toto

"I’m remembering a scene in which Sam, having seen blood on her sheets, wonders whether she’s dying, and Rachel tries to explain both the physical and symbolic meaning of what has happened. I’ve rarely seen anything as lovely, intimate and touching as their interaction. For moments like this, and many other small but deep felicities, it’s more than worth experiencing Last Night and the Night Before." - Westword

“Last Night and the Night Before” is a fine addition to the theatrical canon... It skillfully teeters between comedy and tragedy, with much of the humor coming from the culture clash between country and city, as well as some coming-of-age moments for Sam that were particularly hilarious" - On Stage Colorado

The cowboy is dying

"Donnetta Lavinia Grays takes us on a trip through her Southern childhood into the confusing crossroads that is adulthood in the cowboy is dying via engaging storytelling and singing that come from that complicated, often painful place in between. Donnetta is told by God she is one of the chosen ones (her family are former Baptists on their way to becoming Jehovah's Witnesses). Only, she decides not too many years later, she's not so sure that's what—or who—she wants to be. What she wants is to fall in love, in the hopes it will help her find her rightful place. Grays, who is the dictionary definition of the word "vibrant," ably moves us through her story with both humor and heartache. There is one scene involving Grays and a chair that I will recall with a wry grin for the rest of my days." - NYTheatre

''the cowboy is dying is a fine model of a fully-developed story. It is a fusion of a great narrative, heartfelt drama, and original music dressed in soulful vocals. Grays captures our attention from the beginning, with bold claims of being able to start fires and thunderstorms even though her posture suggests uneasiness. However, that uneasiness folds neatly into the development of a socially uncomfortable character trying to find her niche....Under Isaac Byrne's tight direction and her own comic timing, Grays links her dreams of being a preacher to her dreams of being an actor. When she struggles with integrating her lesbianism with her spirituality, her conflict is conveyed through her strong pipes (India Arie, watch out!) and intelligently written script. Grays is not afraid to get emotionally naked onstage either, singing "I know my body works even if you don't know. I know my body works even if you're through with it" to an unrequited love interest. The reasons for her isolation change throughout her life, but they all stem from a social root. She goes from being a outcast because of her connection to God to being confined within herself for fear of acting on her desires, and all of it is very gripping. She creates wonderful characters and anecdotes, and when she likens herself to the Marlboro man, it is not only hilarious, but also painfully tender. The cowboy may be dying, but unlike in the Westerns, we don't watch him go with sorrow. From his death springs the birth of a rising, talented artist.'' - Theater Talk's New Theater Corps

Reviews - Performance

 

OF GOVERNMENT


"But wait! This mountain air idyll is interrupted by the arrival of a helicopter, bearing the insanely rich (and possibly just insane) Heather (Donnetta Lavinia Grays, hilarious)." - NY Times

O, EARTH


"Our Town then whirls to life...with the Stage Manager (superb Donnetta Lavinia Grays) introducing Emily (Kristen Sieh) and George (Jess Barbagallo) on their familiar ladder, swept away by courtship" - Time Out NY

MEN ON BOATS


"And then there are the men themselves. Including,..Sumner (a marvelously forthright Donnetta Lavinia Grays), a Civil War veteran who dreams of finding a tree to climb and sleep in for days" - NY TIMES (Critic's Pick)

"I could watch Donnetta Lavinia Grays read take-out menus for six hours and still find her performance compelling. Her Sumner, a mysterious adventurer who sleeps in trees, is fascinating. She plays into her character’s closed-off personality to wonderful effect, and earns every belly laugh the audience gives her." - Exeunt Magazine

"Ten women inhabit the roles of Powell and his crew...the gruff, understated show-stealer, Sumner (Donnetta Lavinia Grays) — attempt to soothe egos and push ahead." - Village Voice

IN THE FOOTPRINT


The entire ensemble is uniformly sensational, but look for Donnetta Lavinia Grays as Bertha Lewis, the pro-stadium ACORN chieftain who becomes a sort of tragic hero over the course of the evening.- NY Magazine

It helps immeasurably...that the company of actors is so good: Donnetta Lavinia Grays, as ACORN organizer Bertha Lewis, has an especially riveting tirade. - Time Out New York

RUINED


Even before her wrenching second act monologue, Donnetta Lavinia Grays proves the soul of the piece. Grays subtly and powerfully makes clear that there’s a life going on inside this woman. And when she finally shares her story, it’s all the more shocking and powerful, because we’ve been aware of her presence all along, knowing that she’s been protecting herself and holding in something nearly unimaginable. It’s her eyes that haunt long after the curtain call. - Indianapolis Business Journal.

As Salima, Donnetta Lavinia Grays brings a quiet, mournful intensity to her role...As the voice of all the women who saw their worlds destroyed the day a soldier crossed their path, Grays channels their agony with heartbreaking clarity. - Metro Weekly

Donnetta Lavinia Grays and Rachael Holmes deliver heartbreaking performances as two victims of unspeakable violence: One of Grays’s monologues recalling her attack left many in the audience weeping. - Washingtonian

SHIPWRECKED! AN ENTERTAINMENT


Donnetta Lavinia Grays plays the pearl-fishing old salt with amusing relish, and, in a sweeter vein, Louis’s wife... – NY Times

Grays has an eye-popping turn as the gnarled old sea dog who steers his ship (aptly named the Wonder World) into a deadly storm…-Variety

TWELFTH NIGHT - Westport Country Playhouse/ Public Mobile Unit


[It] does offer some amusements — chief among them, David Ryan Smith as a wonderfully prissy Malvolio, and Donnetta Lavinia Grays as a teasing, protean Feste. - NY Times

Donnetta Lavinia Grays' absolutely delightful Feste. It’s clear she is responsible for the beautiful comedic, dance-like interplay on stage. Her presence is both one of Master of Ceremonies and instigator, as she puts new spins on the clown’s songs. Beautifully voiced. - Theater Pizazz

Donnetta Lavinia Grays lights up the stage with her portrayal of Maria…She has amazing stage presence. – CT Arts Connection

NO CHILD...


Grays is excellent as the gifted teacher. She is affectionate yet firm and the audience feels for and with her. – Talkin’ Broadway

What makes Sun's play work is...the fresh vitality and raw energy of Donnetta Lavinia Grays as the idealistic, struggling actress/teacher, Ms. Sun. - The Berkshire Eagle

JOE TURNER'S COME AND GONE


Donnetta Lavinia Grays is a thrilling presence as Martha. Ms. Grays takes the stage by storm. You are instantly drawn to her presence. And her last minute climactic scene...provides one of the most exciting 10 minutes of theater I've experiences in some time. - Broadway World

WELL


A girl bully from Lisa's integrated neighborhood (portrayed terrifically by Grays) keeps popping up against Lisa's will -Washington Post

The past also literally pops up in the form of Lori Jones (Donnetta Lavinia Grays, a dazzling dynamo in a variety of roles) - The Washington Times

Donnetta Lavinia Grays...gives a pitch-perfect portrayal and brings the house down in her every appearance. - Freelance Star

A bullying little girl (a stompingly wonderful Donnetta Lavinia Grays...) menaces the young Lisa - EDGE Boston

Photo Credit: Beowulf Sheehan