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A Must See

Caroline, Or Change brings 1963 Louisiana to DC’s Roundhouse Theatre

Jerrica White

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Nothing ever happened underground in Louisiana.

As part of A Celebration of Tony Kushner, Washington DC’s Roundhouse Theater is taking us underground to 1963 Lake Charles, LA with its production of Caroline, Or Change, running January 25- February 26 and featuring Helen Hayes Award-winning Nova Y. Payton as Caroline.

I already have chills.

Through and through a memory piece, Caroline, or Change faintly echoes playwright Tony Kushner’s childhood and his upbringing as a Jewish kid in Louisiana, in a middle class family with a Black maid during the American civil rights movement.

I feel arms crossing in front of chests.

Now this isn’t a narrative resting squarely on the tired trope of Black characters being reduced to the help. Rather, a snapshot into the life of a son dealing with the death of his mother, a step mom finding her place in a grieving family, and a Black woman– who although struggles, sacrifices so that her family will never have to be trapped 16 ft below sea level.

The woman bringing this story to life is Nova Y. Payton– one of the many gems of the DC theatre scene. Recently seen in Silver Belles and Jelly’s Last Jam, Payton is perhaps most known for her stand out performances as Effie White in Dreamgirls for which she received a Barrymore & Helen Hayes Award Nominee for Best Lead Actress in a Musical, Resident Musical; and Motormouth Maybelle in Harispray for which she won the Helen Hayes Award for Supporting Actress, Resident Musical.

Jeanine Tesori’s orchestrations thread each character together and I’m ready to see the dexterity of this cast as they combine blues, spiritual, and classical music to magnify this spectacle of heart. 

And then there’s “Lot’s Wife.”

Read: Tonya Pinkin’s earth shattering master class on emoting,  and what I’m sure will come to be another career defining moment for Payton.

This is OUR “Defying Gravity*.” Our fight song to have the strength to persevere through a bleak reality. Honestly, I’m still wondering WHO’S GOING TO RUN TONYA HER TONY** and when!?!?!? As for you, Ms. Payton, we hope to hear your name come this awards season.

Caroline, or Change follows the presentation of both parts of Tony Kushner’s Tony-winning Angels in America. Round House is billing their season as: “On both sides of the presidential election, we present the most celebrated work by America’s best living political playwright.”

The company includes Theresa Cunningham, Felicia Curry, V. Savoy Mcllwain,  Olivia Russell, Awa Sal Secka, Korinn Walfall, Kara-Tameika Watkins, Delores King Williams, Elijah Mayo, Micah Tate, Will Gartshore, Naomi Jacobson, John Lescaut, Scott Sedar, and Griffin McCahill, with Matthew Gardiner as Director and Choreographer for this production. 

With a book and lyrics by Tony Kushner and a score by Jeanine Tesori, Caroline, Or Change originally opened on Broadway on May 2, 2004 at Eugene O’Neill Theater, under the direction of George C. WolfeTonya Pinkins starred as Caroline, taking home a Lucille Lortel award and a Tony nomination. The original broadway company also featured Anika Noni Rose and Chuck Cooper.

For tickets click HERE!  Take a look at the treat your in for!

* Wicked opened on Broadway during the 2004 season, with “Defying Gravity” as its 11 o’clock number. 

** Tonya Pinkins and Idina Menzel were both nominated for the 2004 Tony Award for Best Lead Actress in a Musical. Menzel took home the award.

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A Must See

We Were There: Sojourners & Her Portmanteau

Jerrica White

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[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Playwright, educator, opera singer, and Queen, Mfoniso Udofia has two plays running at New York Theatre Workshop. *pause* TWO PLAYS. In the SAME season!?!? *ends congratulatory gasp* Sojourners and Her Portmanteau are performed in repertory, as two chapters of Udofia’s sweeping, nine-part saga, The Ufot Cycle.  Admittedly, before researching each show, I didn’t know the definition of either word; and in the spirit of keeping it consistent with the honesty, I didn’t like either play. I loved them.

Sojourners

Minimalism seems to be the name of the game these days.  I sat down to a completely black stage, sans a multimedia display lodged on the ceiling at a 45-degree angle.  Clutching my all white program and bobbing my head to the ‘70s pop rock pre-show music, I prepared my heart for the story of Sojourners, well at least that was the plan.  The stage begins to rotate and we meet Abasiama (Chinasa Ogbuagu) and Ukpong (Hubert Point-Du Jour), Nigerian expatriates sojourning in Houston, Texas with the plan to start a family, earn their degrees, and go back to Nigeria until life happens.

Charming and handsome, Ukpong becomes defined by his leather jacket, shoulder work and shimmy which match the fascination and yearning for freedom that illuminates his eyes every time he talks of peace, protest, and Prince–all shaping his view of 1970s America, and consequently, the American Dream.  But does leather compensate for grit? Is a movement or vibe really a panacea for disappointment, aimlessness, and a need to find yourself?  Abasiama enters the play pregnant, purposed, and outfitted in pieces of Nigerian garb, grounded in duty showing a stark contrast to Ukpong who floats in desire.  What’s lost in your household is found elsewhere, and this is when we start to see, and root for, Abasiama’s transformation from timid to tenacious.

Enter Moxie (Lakisha May), a colorful prostitute turned protector and friend.  There is a mutual respect despite great differences between her and Abasiama, with their love for one another creating moments that make you believe in the beauty of humanity.  Enter Disciple (Chinaza Uche), another warm and determined hearted immigrant who has come to the United States to study, rounding out the timely additions of love, support, and security when Abasiama needed them the most.

Through and through this is Abasiama’s story and she glows.  Her kindness, her sisterhood, her strength, her worthiness, and the realization of her American Dream, guide her decisions—which is the catalyst behind the entire Ufot Cycle.

Her Portmanteau

Her “portmanteau”, or red suitcase, makes a return as 30 years have passed.  Abasiama now has two daughters, one raised in America and the other who has come from Nigeria to reconnect with her family.

This is a good moment to mention that each story is informed by the other, but can certainly stand alone on substance, content, and the amazing direction of Ed Sylvanus Iskandar.  The staging is exciting and deliberate, while minimal, putting the full focus on the tension and growth to be expected of a family reunited after a substantial amount of time and distance.

Chinasa Ogbuagu returns to the stage, this time as the American-born daughter, Adiagha Ufot, Adepero Oduye as Iniabasi Ekpeyoung (Ukpong and Abasiama’s daughter), and Jenny Jules as the mother, Abasiama Ufot.

Seated on a couch in Adiagha’s small New York Apartment, no amount of preparation readies your mind and spirit to form the words to make up for 30 years of life, connection, and memories missed.  We’re taken on a ride of resentment, hurt, love, and forgiveness, as the portmanteau is literally unpacked.  We watch the teeter-tottering between offense and defense as one sister tries to assimilate into American culture, and the other attempts, albeit stubbornly, to fall in formation in honoring a family she shares blood with, but little time or tangible history.

It’s powerful to see a story of history and continuing a legacy despite lost time, faulty promises, and difficult choices explored with an all-woman cast as far too often the idea of legacy is framed in patriarchy.  Jules admirably takes Abasiama through the fire to heal, to feel, and to fix her family.  The narrative allows us to empathize and understand the struggle that comes with upholding family values versus cultivating a space to achieve personal dreams and happiness.

Her Portmanteau (and Sojourners) is written in a way that finds your soul, gently massaging it with humor, while leaving it with very real questions.  I’ve never felt a greater need to binge read nine stories and simultaneously study the story of my own family tree. I left changed. I left wrapped in the strength of my mom and my mom’s- mom’s sacrifice.  I left pensive and with seeds of future forgiveness planted.  I left changed.

For capturing our hearts with wit and with truth.  For putting Black women at the center of a poignant narrative.  For unapologetically telling a story you haven’t seen told and telling it in the way you want it to be told.

We thank you Mfoniso.  We thank you.

Have you seen the #duetplays? Sound off in the comments below![/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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A Must See

Our Story in 2 Plays for 1 Price: Mfoniso Udofia’s Sojourners & Her Portmanteau

Jerrica White

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Last winter, we reported on Sojourners by playwright Mfoniso Udofia, a new play about a Nigerian family who has come to America with the goal of earning a college education, starting a family, and returning to Nigeria. But not without the twists and turns that come along with every plan that seems straightforward.

Image result for Sojourners and Her Portmanteau

Thanks to New York Theatre Workshop, we get to relive this moment and continue the dialogue, decades later, with Her Portmanteau. Performed in repertory, these two chapters of Udofia’s sweeping, nine-part saga, The Ufot Cycle, chronicle the triumphs and losses of the tenacious matriarch of a Nigerian family.

Ed Sylvanus Iskandar directs the two-part story in association with The Playwrights Realm, who premiered Sojourners last winter in a limited engagement world premiere production. Her Portmanteau also received the 2016 Edgerton Foundation New Play Award grant.

The cast includes Jenny JulesLakisha Michelle MayAdepero OduyeChinasa OgbuaguHubert Point-Du Jour, and Chinaza Uche.

As if that wasn’t enough to get excited about, we have an exclusive deal for our Broadway Black readers!

Our Story in 2 Plays for 1 Price!

Yes. That’s two shows for one price! The discount code BWYBLACK will take 50% off tickets to ANY performance(s) if purchased by May 15th! 

Go ahead and grab your tickets. We have ours!

Sojourners and Her Portmanteau plays at NYTW until June 4th.

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