‘The House That Will Not Stand’ gets a standing O at Howard

Bolstered with humor, Marcus Gardley's period play follows seven women as they fight for their idiosyncratic interpretations of freedom.

By Teniola Ayoola

Human nature is often resistant to any imposition upon its free will. This rings especially true in The House That Will Not Stand by Marcus Gardley, directed by Nicole Brewer and performing through April 6 in Howard University’s Al Freeman Jr. Environmental Theatre Space. Bolstered with humor throughout, the play follows seven women as they fight against oppressive systems, people, and rules, striving for their idiosyncratic interpretations of freedom.

It is the summer of 1836 in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Albans family faces turmoil following the death of the white patriarch, Lazare Albans. His militant mistress, a free colored woman, Beatrice Albans, imposes strict mourning rules on her daughters and younger sister, despite their wishes: dress only in their “best black,” leave the house only on holidays, and nest (“We will nest here until we take our final breath,” she says). But though Beatrice has them on a tight leash, they have her on a short rope because their definitions of freedom, choice, and independence are not the same, and sooner rather than later things start to crumble.

Aysia Glenn as Beatrice and Tymetrias L. Bolden as Makeda in ‘The House That Will Not Stand.’

With a sharp and startling “Attention!!,” we hear Beatrice’s commanding and domineering voice even before we see her uppish demeanor and regal gait. Exceptionally played by Aysia Glenn, who takes on the genteel disposition of Lady Danbury from the Netflix series Bridgerton, she not only walks with a black cane as does that character but brings similar fortitude and stoicism to her role. Beatrice (or Maman as her daughters call her) has had to be a placée, which she describes as being “some man’s thing. Most of my life — having to be a mule in a dress.” Placées were colored women sold to or “placed with” white men but without the legal rights of a wife nor recognized as one. After 20 years of living this life against her will (“all my days — on my knees begging, bowing…opened my legs and kept my mouth shut!”), she is willing to do anything to give her children the choice to live as colored women free from the need of a white man’s wealth or protection, and see to it that the metaphorical house of the plaçage system does not stand in her bloodline.

Angè, Beatrice’s oldest and lightest-hued daughter, played candidly by Riya Massey (cast A), rebels against her mother’s constraints by pursuing romance with Ràmon Le Pip. “I was meant for romance and frivolous escapades and I will wait no longer,” she says. Seeing the only way to be with Ràmon Le Pip (an offstage character) as to be his placèe, — the very system that caged her mother — now represents, to her, freedom from the repressed domestic life in which she feels Maman has kept them imprisoned. Meanwhile, Odette, the youngest and darkest-hued daughter, played sensuously by Ezinélia Baba (cast A), defies societal beauty standards and asserts her own agency in matters of love. Even daughter Maude Lynn, played by Tziah McNair, finds liberation from her self-inflicted chains of religious piety. McNair does an exceptional job mixing tremendous humor with her sanctimonious role. When her sisters tie her up and lock her up in Act One, she compares herself to Jesus and her sisters to the Romans. However, very shortly afterward, she confesses, “Jesus. I thought I could be a martyr like you but I don’t have the gut for it.”

Makeda, played by Tymetrias L. Bolden, holds a pivotal role in the household dynamics and is truly the star of the show. As the house servant, she is fighting for her freedom from slavery, (“I’m your house servant. I wants my freedom. I ain’t gettin no younger,” she tells Beatrice). Bolden has most speaking lines in this play that alternate with passion, exuberance, and even solemnity. In Act One, her dramatic retelling of what happened in the past 13 hours since the patriarch’s death captures and holds our attention. She is spilling the tea to Beatrice’s archenemy, La Veuve, but she spills it in a dramatic and energetic manner that crescendos and leaves us in suspense. Even in Act Two when she begins another long and impassioned monologue, she wails as she calls out to her ancestors, “MAHALEE! Congo! From the Mountain Mbanza, Mbanza Kongo Mwene Kabunga, where our mothers still sit watching us from mountain peaks, they told us to find a place where we could speak to them with our feet.” Bolden’s performance not only sheds light on ancestral voodoo spirituality but adds depth to the narrative. The beating of drums intensifies the rhythm till our hearts begin to race.

Scenes from ‘The House That Will Not Stand.’ Photos by Dr. Benita Gladney.Scenes from ‘The House That Will Not Stand.’ Photos by Dr. Benita Gladney.

The sparse set design by Nadir Bey barely hints at a wealthy Creole cottage, but Alberto Segarra’s innovative use of lighting seamlessly transitions between different parts of the house, enhancing the audience’s immersion in the story. We are able to follow the simultaneous dialogues of characters on the front porch, the parlor, the tea room, or the upstairs bedrooms when they freeze in action and the lights fade in one area but light up in another. The intricate costumes by Brandee Mathies further enrich the visual experience, capturing the essence of 19th-century New Orleans with ball gown fabrics, puffy shoulders, lace collars, and smooth, fitted waistlines. Makeda, the servant girl, is dressed in a plain plaid button-up dress, a headwrap, and a server apron. All cast members wear 19th-century black leather mid-calf lace-up boots.

Thom J. Woodward’s sound design adds another layer of intensity to the play, effectively punctuating key moments with thunderous effects and subtle whispers. The coordinated dance numbers, choreographed by Royce Zackery and accompanied by Amadou Kouyate’s music, add a dynamic element to the production. In Act One, the ensemble’s waltz performance transports us to the La Placèe ball, where the ladies laugh and giggle and “cross step to box step and grab you a man.” In other scenes, the versatile ensemble are mourners and wailers who also double as the stage crew.

As Beatrice’s crazed sister Marie Josephine, Shanice Baptiste-Peters delivers a mesmerizing performance, showcasing her character’s struggle for freedom amidst madness. In Act Two when the drum goes wild, Baptiste-Peters dances with so much fervor and gusto to see her man again that we are enthralled and invited to find our own rhythm to the irresistible beat of the drum. Director Brewer might have provided clearer guidance on distinctively conveying the character’s mental madness: Marie Josephine has been locked up in the attic for insanity, and we see her speak to the dead, but so do the other “sane” ladies when Lazare’s ghost appears (played by Myeves Lucien, cast A). La Veuve, played by Rebecca Celeste, is immensely talented but could bring more bitterness, sting, and bite to her lines to convey the depth of her animosity at her archnemesis Beatrice, whom she looks forward to one day “scraping…from the bottom of my sole.”

The play ends on America’s Independence Day, July 4th, 1836. As the women break free from their oppression in one way or another and assert their independence, the metaphorical houses and symbols of oppression crumble. The audience is left standing, however, applauding the cast and production team for their exceptional performance and thought-provoking portrayal of freedom and resilience.

Running Time: Two Hours including a 15-minute intermission.

The House That Will Not Stand plays through April 6, 2024, presented by The Chadwick A. Boseman College of Fine Arts, Department of Theatre Arts, performing in the Al Freeman Jr. Environmental Theatre Space in Childers Hall on the campus of Howard University, 2445 6th St NW, Washington, DC 20059. Tickets ($5–$20) are available online.

The program for The House That Will Not Stand is online here.

Teniola Ayoola is an arts and culture enthusiast. In her free time, you can find her at an art gallery, an art museum, or at the theater. She has an undergraduate degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University. She has had opportunities to work with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), intern with the Shakespeare Theatre Company, and receive mentorship as a White House Correspondents Association Scholar. She recently graduated with her master’s in Management from Harvard University and is now part of the “Theater U” program for art critics with DC Theater Arts. Follow her on X @TopTeniola!

The House That Will Not Stand
By Marcus Gardley

Aysia Glenn – Beatrice
Ezinélia Baba – Odette (cast A)
Myeves Lucien – Lazare (cast A)
Rebecca Celeste – La Veuve
Riya Massey – Agnes (cast A
Shanice Baptiste-Peters – Marie Josephine (cast A)
Tymetrias L. Bolden – Makeda
Tziah McNair – Maude Lynn

Director – Nicole Brewer
Musical Director – Amadou Kouyate
Choreographer – Royce Zackery
Lightening Designer – Alberto Segarra
Sound Designer – Thom J. Woodward
Scenic Designer – Nadir Bey
Costume Designer – Brandee Mathies
Properties – Students in the Stagecraft courses within the department


  1. This review is a masterclass in theatrical criticism! The writer’s engaging and informative style transported me to the world of the play, making me feel like I was right there in the audience. The way they wove together thoughtful analysis, vivid descriptions, and praise for the cast and crew was truly impressive. I particularly appreciated the attention given to the themes of freedom, identity, and the complexities of human relationships. This review not only made me want to see the play but also left me feeling inspired and eager to explore more of the author’s work. Bravo to the reviewer for a job well done!


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