“It’s easier to put your life story in a book or write about it for a play than to talk about it with your loved ones,” said Nurse Theresa Bowick to a sold-out show during a discussion immediately following the premiere of her play, Collard Green Curves: a fat girl’s journey from childhood obesity to healthy living at Geva Theatre on Thursday night.
The play brings life to the words written in her 2013 book that takes the reader on an emotional rollercoaster as Bowick discloses some of the most sensitive experiences she faced to become the nurse that she is today.
Directed by Michael Atkins Yawn, a local theatre guru and founder of Imani Theatre Ensemble, the cast of fifteen portrayed the individuals, both bad and good, that helped shape the life of Bowick.
Unfortunately, the show did have an early-on hiccup: one of the actors didn’t attend opening night.
“The show must go on,” said Yawn and then he played the role. Not only did Yawn direct the play, at the last minute he jumped on stage and played the role of one of Bowick’s brothers.
In the opening scene, teenage Bowick is cooking in the kitchen, attempting to nail her grandmother’s collard greens recipe while talking with her grandmother about leaving Rochester to attend Morris Brown College in Atlanta, Georgia. While excited to learn the fundamentals of the nursing field, Bowick is timid about her obesity and isn’t necessarily interested in accepting her grandmother’s compliments about how beautiful she is despite the fact the she is a “big-boned” black girl. Her grandmother continues to uplift her spirits by suggesting that a few more pieces of pork added to her greens would surely land her a husband in no time.
Bowick would go on to college to meet the man that would become the father of her daughter, Jacynta. While not accepted by her mother, Bowick married, but admitted that she wasn’t in love and was afraid that the marriage wouldn’t last. While married to Jacynta’s father, Bowick faced mental and some physical abuse and eventually left him to relocate back to Rochester with her family.
The play goes on to tell the story of Bowick’s second abusive relationship with an alcoholic who would physically abuse her. She would end up getting pregnant by this man, but in 1993, she found herself on the floor of Genesee Hospital drenched in blood from a miscarriage.
Deputy Mayor Dr. Cedric Alexander plays the role of Minister Scott, a character that believes in the power of prayer and comforts Bowick through her traumatic loss of her second child. Alexander’s role is dedicated to Dr. Margie Lovett-Scott, Nurse Bowick’s mentor, friend and former nursing professor.
With twelve fascinating scenes comprising Bowick’s most vulnerable life experiences, the audience laughed, sighed and applauded throughout the production. At the end of the play, Bowick , Yawn and the cast of Collard Green Curves engaged with the audience until it was time to indulge in the same foods that gave Nurse Bowick a reason to tell her story.
Departing from The Fielding Stage at Geva Theatre, Bowick stood in the lobby holding a bouquet of flowers and accepting congratulations and taking photos with her family, fellow nurses, sorority sisters, business partners and new fans of her life’s story.
To end the night, Bowick gave her guests a taste of the very foods that literally shaped her life. With a healthier approach, the hired catering team served collard greens and cabbage with turkey instead of pork, a portion size of macaroni and cheese and pulled barbeque chicken.