If you weren’t watching the Denzel Washington live stream Q&A lead by the Notorious Ph.D., Todd Boyd, last night, you missed a great conversation. However, you shouldn’t worry just yet because you can still watch a part of the live stream, for the time being. You should definitely watch and learn a few things. He had some great things to say about his work on the stage and the big screen. Essentially, he gave a master class.
It was recently announced by Viola Davis that she would be starring in a film adaptation of Fences alongside Washington, who will also direct and produce the film. So, naturally, Denzel talked about this upcoming project with Dr. Boyd, but we weren’t expecting what else he had to say when asked “What else can you do? You’ve done everything.”:
“I’m directing Fences, I’ve never directed Fences. I’ve been given the opportunity by the August Wilson estate… He [Wilson] did 10 plays. I’m directing, producing, and acting in one. I’m executive producing the other nine. I’ve made a deal with HBO. We’re going to do one a year for the next nine years. I’m really excited that they would put that in my hands and trust me. That’s good enough for me. It doesn’t get any better than that.”
— Uzo Aduba (@UzoAduba) September 18, 2015
— Lisa DeNeal (@diolette) September 18, 2015
— Tatiana Bacchus (@tbacchus20) September 18, 2015
And… Yeah… That’s exactly where we dropped dead. This is SO amazing. Each of Wilson’s 10-play Pittsburgh Cycle aka the Century Cycle is set during a different decade of the 1900s and aims to describe the Black experience. We have been preaching about August Wilson to anyone who will listen and now we’ll have contemporary depictions of each play released once a year to use as reference and just for personal enjoyment. This is phenomenal. Please hold why we try to breathe. In the meantime, Denzel explained why Wilson’s work is meant for mass consumption:
“The universal stems from the specific. His stories are specifically African American stories but the themes are universal. Family, Love, Betrayal–whatever the theme is. People relate and enjoy listening to or seeing his work. He was just a bright, brilliant, shining light who was here and then he was gone, but his work will live forever to be interepreted by actors & directors for as long as we’re here.”
Watch the entire interview below and also educate yourself on the August Wilson Cycle below.
(Wish that The Green Space would unlock those August Wilson recordings again. Who knows? They just might.)
The Pittsburgh Cycle
August Wilson’s crowning achievement is The Pittsburgh Cycle, his series of ten plays that charts the African American experience throughout the twentieth century. All of them are set in Pittsburgh’s Hill District except for one, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, which is set in Chicago. The cycle is also known as his ‘Century Cycle’. The plays are listed below followed by the year he wrote them, the decade they reflect and a mini plot summary.
Gem of the Ocean (2003) – 1900s
Citizen Barlow enters the home of the 285-year-old Aunt Ester who guides him on a spiritual journey to the City of Bones.
Joe Turner’s Come and Gone (1988) – 1910s
The themes of racism and discrimination come to the fore in this play about a few freed African American slaves.
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (1984) – 1920s
Ma Rainey’s ambitions of recording an album of songs are jeopardised by the ambitions and decisions of her band.
The Piano Lesson (1990) – 1930s
Brother and sister Boy Willie and Berniece clash over whether or not they should sell an ancient piano that was exchanged for their great grandfather’s wife and son in the days of slavery.
Seven Guitars (1995) – 1940s
Starting with the funeral of one of the seven characters, the play tracks the events that lead to the death.
Fences (1987) – 1950s
Race relations are explored again in this tale which starts with a couple of garbage men who wonder why they can’t become garbage truck drivers.
Two Trains Running (1991) – 1960s
Looking at the Civil Rights movement of the sixties, this play details the uncertain future promised to African Americans at the time.
Jitney (1982) – 1970s
Jitneys are unlicensed cab drivers operating in Pittsburgh’s Hill District when legal cabs won’t cover that area, the play follows the hustle and bustle of their lives.
King Hedley II (1999) – 1980s
One of Wilson’s darkest plays, an ex-con tries to start afresh by selling refrigerators with the intent of buying a video store. Characters from Seven Guitars reappear throughout.
Radio Golf (2005) – 1990s
Aunt Ester returns in this modern story of city politics and the quest from two monied Pittsburgh men to try and redevelop an area of Pittsburgh.
The plays are not connected in the manner of a serial story but characters do repeatedly appear at different stages of their lives and the offspring of previous characters also feature; the figure of Aunt Ester features most often in the cycle. Another dominating feature of the work is the presence of an apparently mentally-impaired character; examples include Gabriel in Fences and Hedley in Seven Guitars.
We Were There: Sojourners & Her Portmanteau
[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.
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”, 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]
Our Story in 2 Plays for 1 Price: Mfoniso Udofia’s Sojourners & Her Portmanteau
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.
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.
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.