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“Welcome to Matteson!” – Exploring Identity, Community, and the Magic of Theater

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In the heart of New Jersey, a thought-provoking and humorous exploration of identity and community unfolds on the stage of NJ Rep as they proudly present the world premiere of “Welcome to Matteson!” Written by Inda Craig-Galván and directed by Dawn Monique Williams, this dark comedy promises to be an unforgettable theatrical experience. With a cast that includes MaConnia Chesser, Cynthia Kaye McWilliams, De’Lon Grant, and Charlie Hudson, III, we delved into their insights to give you a glimpse of the magic behind the scenes.

Cynthia Kaye McWilliams, known for her work in television on shows like “Average Joe” and “Bosch,” returns to her theatrical roots with this production. When asked about the unique appeal of stage acting compared to on-camera work, Cynthia shared her profound love for the immediacy of live theater. “You’re not waiting on reviews, and you’re not at the mercy of an editor. The audience is getting what you are creating for them right there at the moment. We’re experiencing something together. That is magical and fleeting and singular – and thus, even more special.”

In “Welcome to Matteson!,” Cynthia’s character, Patricia, navigates the complex theme of intra-racial prejudice and identity. She encourages the audience to ponder questions about relationships, identity, and societal roles. “Who are we inside of a relationship? How does that differ from who we are on our own? Can we shift our identity or only our station? When we do ‘move on up,’ what do we leave behind? Patricia and Gerald are dealing with all these things. I have no answers for you – I only hope that the audience leaves asking themselves better questions.”

Behind the scenes, Cynthia cherishes the camaraderie among the cast, where discussions range from pop culture debates to sharing stories of subtle and not-so-subtle racism. It’s clear that their chemistry enriches the production, making it a captivating journey for both the cast and the audience.

MaConnia Chesser, who plays Regina in the play, emphasized her character’s confidence, autonomy, and zest for life. She explained, “Regina feels like someone who is just open to life, and it is just really such fun to play her and bring her joy for life to life.” In a dark comedy like 

“Welcome to Matteson!,” MaConnia finds the challenge of balancing complex characters and multi-layered scenes to be immensely enjoyable.

Dark comedies, with their blend of authenticity and surrealism, provide actors with opportunities to explore the absurdity of real-life situations. MaConnia expressed her delight in portraying the play’s interactions and scenes, which reveal the less admirable qualities in us and the unexpected connections we can forge.

De’Lon Grant, who graced Broadway with his presence in “Come from Away,” provided insights into the difference between performing in an intimate theater like NJ Rep and the grandeur of Broadway. He emphasized the intimacy of smaller theaters, where subtler moments and non-verbal communication can shine. “A smaller theater allows for a much more intimate experience for the audience as well as the actor,” he shared.

Regarding the play’s themes of neighborhoods, community, and identity, De’Lon hoped that audiences would connect with the characters and empathize with their struggles. He noted that the characters live in a world not of their making, a sentiment that resonates with all of us.

As for a memorable moment from “Welcome to Matteson!,” De’Lon mentioned the thought-provoking and unexpected ending, which invites the audience to reflect on a rhetorical question, leaving a lasting impression.

Charlie Hudson, III, whose experience includes Broadway as well as Off-Broadway productions like “Nollywood Dreams,” discussed his approach to acting in an intimate theater setting. He stressed that the core work and dedication remain the same, regardless of the performance space. In intimate settings, actors can focus on grounding themselves in more natural, authentic performances without the need to project to the back row.

Charlie shared a personal experience that shaped his understanding of community and neighborly interactions. Growing up in Montgomery, Alabama, and being actively involved in the Civil Rights Movement through his family, he learned the importance of community early on. However, a jarring experience during his time in grad school at Brown University highlighted the feeling of disconnection and isolation in a new community.

“Welcome to Matteson!” promises to be a thought-provoking and entertaining exploration of identity, community, and the human experience. With a cast that brings depth and authenticity to their roles, this dark comedy invites audiences to reflect on the complexities of life in a world where the “other” might look just like us. Don’t miss the chance to experience the magic of live theater at NJ Rep and be part of this extraordinary journey into the heart of Matteson.

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