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We Were There

We Were There: Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812

Jerrica White

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On March 2, 2017, I saw Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812.

On March 3, 2017, I woke up still perplexed by the tour de force I witnessed… but maybe… in a good way?

Let me explain.

First of all, it is impossible to walk into the theatre and not get taken aback by the gorgeously designed set. Stairs, tables, and chairs intermix on the stage, walkways built into the orchestra, maroon velvet and portraits line the walls, and comet-inducing chandeliers hang from the ceiling. Along with the Tony Award Mimi Lien deserves for her scenic design, this set really ought to be preserved in a museum.

Sitting down in my orchestra seat, I looked on as a cast member poured vodka from one of the bars built into the set, and felt like a patron at a dinner club, or better yet a casino—where many things are going on at once, with infectious spirit, yet all competing for my attention. The lights dimmed and the show began, but this feeling didn’t leave as I consistently fought to understand: is what I’m seeing all that I’m going to get?

With high energy, the ensemble sings of a war going on and an Andrey, who apparently isn’t present, setting the focus while teasing that we’re at the Opera listening to a complicated Russian story. The prologue is a fun, necessary dive into the essence of each character, and the first look into the comedic thread that ties the show together.

Based on a passage of Leo Tolstoy’s “War and Peace”, The Great Comet centers on Natasha, her engagement to Andrey (off at war), and her love affair with an aristocratic hedonist, Anatole (played by Lucas Steele). All of this taking place during the Napoleonic Wars, yet comfortably nestled in the glitz, glamour, and strobe lights of aristocratic Moscow.

And that, folks, is where the story lives. But hey, restraint in one area allows for extravagance in others?

Denée Benton makes an inspiring Broadway debut as Countess Natasha. Her voice matches her undeniable beauty, nimbly soaring over Dave Malloy’s chameleonic score, which shapeshifts from Russian folk, electronica, and pop rock to traditional musical theatre soliloquies and expressive arias—after all, we’re at the Opera, right?

It’s refreshing and important to see a Black woman with natural hair, trusted to play an ingénue, and one of Russian aristocracy at that; but more important is the fact that she does it so well. She’s young, she’s sweet, she’s funny, and she’s charming. She conducts and controls the emotional state of the audience with a look and with her smile, and because of this finesse, we stay by her side, bad decision after bad decision.

Lucas Steele and Denee Benton

Image: Chad Batka

Music artist Josh Groban stars as Pierre and also celebrates his Broadway debut. He spends the majority of the time introspectively gazing at other characters from the stage, often playing the piano or accordion. But trust: when he opens his mouth to sing, it’s showtime.

He grounds the show in sincerity, providing an earthy depth and satin complexity to a man consumed in self-loathing and existential defeatism. We feel for him, and, in fact, I had more investment in his story—his call to wake up and lead a life full of love—and longed to see the desires described in the most memorable song of the show, “Dust and Ashes,” fulfilled.

Amber Gray, who’s been with the show since its first production at Ars Nova, equally commands attention as Hélène, Anatole’s sister (and possibly incestuous lover?), snatching our edges with a sensible belt and growl (go ahead and put “Charming” on repeat). We lean into Brittain Ashford’s (Sonya) sultry and affecting “Sonya Alone.”

Through the satire, eccentricity, and at times, strictly narrative third person book, Rachel Chavkin’s direction rises above, showing roots in wit, which brings out laughter at the best moments and empathy at the sincerest.

My heart fills with excitement because, this, to me, works as an ensemble piece—and the ensemble exudes joy with every strum of the guitar, bowing of the violin, high kick, and Slavic folk dance. The stamina needed to pull off a show of this magnitude is paramount and deserves applause. Comet’s magic, however, is in the celestial transcendence achieved when the room darkens, the chandeliers shimmer, and the ensemble surrounds us with both their presence and warm, angelic voices (ie: “The Great Comet of 1812” and “Dust and Ashes”).

Lucas Steele and Denee Benton

Image: Chad Batka

More experience and performance than plot, I graciously acknowledge that The Great Comet of 1812 may be the most exciting, new, and innovative show you’ll see this season. It’s up to you to decide if you seek entertainment or if you seek a story.

The cast also currently features Grace McLean as Marya, Nick Choksi as Dolokhov, Nicholas Belton as Andrey/Bolkonsky, Gelsey Bell as Mary, and Paul Pinto as Balaga.

Sumayya Ali, Courtney Basset, Josh Canfield, Kennedy Caughell, Ken Clark, Erica Dorfler, Lulu Fall, Ashley Pérez Flanagan, Nick Gaswirth, Alex Gibson, Brad Giovanine, Billy Joe Kiessling, Mary Spencer Knapp, Blaine Alden Krauss, Reed Luplau, Brandt Martinez, Andrew Mayer, Mary Page Nance, Shoba Narayan, Azudi Onyejekwe, Pearl Rhein, Celia Mei Rubin, Heath Saunders, Ani Taj, Cathryn Wake, Katrina Yaukey, and Lauren Zakrin portray various ensemble roles.

Production has wrapped on a full Broadway cast recording. Groban, after several extensions, plays his final performance on July 2nd. Hamilton‘s Okieriete Onaodowan will step into the role of Pierre beginning July 3rd.

For tickets, follow the Great Comet.

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Off Broadway

We Were There: Pipeline at Lincoln Center Theater

Jerrica White

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Namir Smallwood & Karen Pittman in Pipeline @ LCT Photo: Jeremy Daniel

We real cool. We

Left school. We

Lurk late. We

Strike straight. We

Sing sin. We

Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We

Die soon.

 

 

In 1960 Pulitzer Prize winner Gwendolyn Brooks’ haunting crescendo from innocence to downfall, “We Real Cool,” was published by Harpers.  In 2017 Dominique Morisseau humanizes and harmonizes with the Youth experience by following a similarly eerie trajectory, in her newest play “Pipeline.”

Walking into the Mitzie E. Newhouse theater and being met with the familiarity of harsh fluorescent lights and institutional cement block walls, will humble you.  For 90 minutes of your life, you’re back in a classroom and the choice is yours on who is going to be your instructor.  Enter Nya (a sharp and haunting Karen Pittman), an inner-city public school teacher and mother.  Enter Omari (a brilliantly magnetic, Namir Smallwood) a private school attendee and son.  Both professors in their own right, they quarter 90 minutes across the war zone of a mother whose every move is to protect her son and a son who’s fighting to deflect the de-humanizing compartmentalization of his surroundings.  The title of the play, “Pipeline,” is a direct reference to the national trend where students are funneled through a pipeline from school to prison due to zero tolerance policies which criminalize over minor infractions.

If Morisseau wasn’t already on your radar, look now.  Where there could have been didactic language, there’s deep dialogue. Where we’d normally see over-explanation to compensate for a lack of understanding the Black experience, we see compassion.  Morisseau lays a genuine and raw foundation for the voices of her characters to sing from. She fleshes out everyday heroes—mothers, fathers, teachers (Brava, Tasha Lawrence! A standout.), students, and security guards (a charming Jaime Lincoln Smith) –who are all just trying to do the right thing.

Lileana Blain-Cruz’s direction and staging is the microphone that amplifies the tight harmonies and arrangements between this stunning 6-member cast.  Within this composition, the duets resonate the loudest. That is the poetic, song-like exchanges that Morisseau has penned in the sweeping, full-range of emotion and complication that makes up the key of humanity, that we confuse as dialogue.

Father + Son

Mother + Son

Mother + Father

 

We are reminded that life isn’t easy, family isn’t perfect, and resolution isn’t promised. We’re reminded that life isn’t promised.

The interactions between Omari and his girlfriend Jasmine (a passionate and wise, Heather Velazquez) move me the most.  Too often we dismiss the validity of feelings such as love or fear, based on age and experience.  Morisseau gives the voice of our youth bass and credibility.

If this play was a thesis, I gather it postulates, why do we not see people for the entire human being they are?  Why do we not take the time to understand the factors behind circumstance?

Omari’s classroom violence.  Xavier (Morocco Omari) and Nya’s failed marriage.  Nya’s crippling anxiety.  Xavier’s absentee fatherhood. Nya’s infidelity.  None of these events stand alone. The question now is: do we take this story as a mere page out of a textbook, or a reminder on how to live life through a lens of radical empathy?

Pipeline doesn’t seek to answer large questions for us, rather it invites us into the classroom to be part of this eloquent and intelligent debate.

Pipeline

Lincoln Center’s Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater

Written by Dominique Morisseau; Directed by Lileana Blain-Cruz
Set design by Matt Saunders, costume design by Montana Blanco, lighting design by Yi Zhao, sound design by Justin Ellington.
Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission.
Pipeline will run through August 27, 2017

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Off Broadway

We Were There: “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and the Beauty in Summer Love

Rachel Jarvis

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There are several reasons that summer love is so enticing. Whether it be the prospect of having an electric attraction with someone or the short lived nature of a fling, summer love is sure to encompass good times at a fast, flirty pace. All that and more is what you should expect from The Public Theater’s, Shakespeare in the Park A Midsummer Night’s Dream. A midsummer tale of love gone right after going wrong and the beauty in both, because love can be tricky like that.

Phylicia Rashad as Titania and Benjamin Ye as Changeling Boy – Photo courtesy of The Public Theater

When Puck (Kristine Nielson), the meddling sprite whose not all there and a little too interested in having a good time accidentally drugs the wrong young Athenian male, “fair ladies” battle it out sumo style. Titania, the fairy queen (played by Broadway Black legend Phylicia Rashad) falls in love with a literal ass (Danny Burstein), and everyone in between is spellbound throughout. At first you think Lysander (Kyle Beltran) only has eyes for Hermia (Shalita Grant)- poor Helena (Annaleigh Ashford)! But then he falls for Helena, poor Hermia! But then Demetrius falls for Helena as well- poor Hermia, again! Poor every courtier whose fallen victim to Puck’s magical negligence. It’s all so rivetingly confusing and captivatingly annoying that Puck had one job and couldn’t get it right. Equal parts touching and humorous as any romantic comedy should be, yet you can’t help but think that it’s all so beautiful. Literally, it is breathtaking to watch Helena and Hermia fight over the men they love in yellow and orange crop tops and blue and teal puffy skirts under a canopy of trees adorned in fairy lights.

De’Adre Aziz as Hippolyta and Bhavesh Patel as Theseus – Photo courtesy of The Public Theater

Praise for an overwhelmingly colorful show! I mean that in more ways than one, from the costumes designed by Clint Ramos (In Transit)- Hippolyta’s (De’Adre Aziza) wedding dress will remind you of a certain modern day goddess- to the scenic design by David Rockwell (She Loves Me). Original music and orchestrations by Justin Levine (Love’s Labour’s Lost) complimented by the enchanting Marcelle Davies-Lashley, down to the casting which is extremely pertinent given recent events surrounding the casting of Black actors. The announcement of Okieriete “Oak” Onaodowan’s (Hamilton) departure from The Great Comet after a two week run, where it would appear the producers were ill prepared to handle more than one Black lead at a time. The Public Theater’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream reaffirms that Black and Brown people are more than adequate storytellers. In terms of racial representation, The Public Theatre continues to show us what theatre can and should be. Inclusive not divisive or dismissive; or as Oskar Eustis says in the pre-show announcements theatre is “where art and culture meet.”

Under the direction of Lear deBessonet, current resident director and founder of Public Works,  A Midsummer seduces you like a determined lover hellbent on winning your heart. You’ll hear planes flying low overhead and the frequent cop car or ambulance wailing outside the park but you’ll be as spellbound as Lysander and Demetrius were with Helena. Phylicia Rashad saunters onto the stage through light smog after ascending a short flight of stairs in a glittering silver gown to address her fairy companions. Marcelle Davies-Lashley croons “Wake me up when summers here,” and you’re hooked.

Shalita Grant as Hermia and Alex Hernandez as Demetrius – Photo courtesy of The Public Theater

You’ll forget you’re listening to a play in verse, thanks to a company of actors with impeccable comedic timing. As the Bard’s work did in his day, A Midsummer reflects modern love even in iambic pentameter. In one scene, Hermia has had enough of a pestering Demetrius and regales him with a lofty Shakespearean “leave me alone” but when he persists she lets out a “Boy if you don’t…” and storms off stage to roaring laughter. Here, as evidenced throughout the entire show, the folly of romance is timeless.

“The course of true love never did run smooth” Lysander tells Hermia, but it doesn’t have to when everyone’s falling head over heels in lust on a beautiful stage in lavish costumes under a clear night sky.  So, like all summer romances that have to end, A Midsummer Night’s Dream will only be in the park for two weeks, opening Monday July 31 and running through August 13, 2017. Don’t miss your chance to see Phylicia Rashad and experience this enthralling production!

For more information on how to get your free tickets visit ThePublicTheater.org

Location: The Delacorte Theatre in Central Park

Creative: Direction by the Public’s Resident Director and Founder of the Public Works program, Lear deBessonet with choreography by Chase Brock.

Cast: Featuring Phylicia Rashad (Titania), De’Adre Aziza (Hippolyta), Patrena Murray (Snout), Shalita Grant (Hermia) and Kyle Beltran (Lysander); as well as Annaleigh Ashford (Helena); Vinie Burrows (First Fairy, Peaseblossom); Danny Burstein (Nick Bottom); Justin Cunningham (Philostrate); Marcelle Davies-Lashley (Fairy Singer); Austin Durant (Snug); Keith Hart (Third Fairy); Alex Hernandez (Demetrius); Jeff Hiller (Francis Flute); Robert Joy (Peter Quince); Patricia Lewis (Fourth Fairy); David Manis (Egeus, Cobweb); Pamela McPherson-Cornelius (Second Fairy); Kristine Nielsen (Puck); Bhavesh Patel (Theseus); Richard Poe (Oberon); Joe Tapper (Robin Starveling); Judith Wagner (Mote); Warren Wyss (Mustardseed); Benjamin Ye (Changeling Boy).

Running Time: 2 and a half hours, including a 20 minute intermission

Through August 13, 2017

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Off Broadway

We Were There: The Three Musketeers

Rachel Jarvis

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At the Richard Rodgers Amphitheater in Marcus Garvey Park, tucked between a baseball diamond and a playground, the Classical Theatre of Harlem’s fast-paced swashbuckling retelling of The Three Musketeer’sbrings a little Paris to Harlem, but not without taking a little Harlem to Paris.

As the sun sets in the trees somewhere behind the stage, you’ll take in a dabbing Porthos (Reynaldo Piniella), an ensemble of dancers from the Elisa Monte company, and Shayshahn “PhearNone” MacPherson on the Aurora violin, leaving one to wonder “Are we in Harlem or in France?”

In Catherine Bush’s adaptation of the Alexandre Dumas classic under Jenny Bennett’s direction, a female D’Artagnan (Miriam Hyman; The Piano Lesson ) moves from the country in hopes of joining the King’s musketeers. Before doing so of course, she must first sword-fight with almost everyone, fall in love with her landlord’s daughter (Ava McCoy), and figure out what it means to be “all for one and one for all.” It’s a tale about the three musketeers that’s less about the classic trio, and more about D’Artagnan the musketeer wannabe who can’t seem to catch a break.

Miriam Hyman – Photo by Jill Jones

Amidst a simple yet impressive set, Hyman shows us a D’Artagnan as we’ve never seen her before, simply because we haven’t seen her before. As Bennett imagined it, D’Artagnan doesn’t need to man up to be a musketeer but woman up, and woman up Hyman does. With her dred-loc bob and braid clips Hyman bounds around the stage with her sword at the ready as if she were already in the King’s service. “If I wanted to kill you,” she nonchalantly tells an injured Athos (Emmanuel Brown; Spider-man: Turn Off the Dark)  “I’d use my sword.” Hyman’s understated confidence and surety ensure that you haven’t any doubt somebody’s dying at her hand before the 90 minutes is up.

The 90 minutes goes by very fast. So fast that if you paused to swat at the many flies that were also trying to enjoy the show, you might miss a connection between a flashback scene happening on the balcony stage left or when they cut  to the present to reenact a story-within-a-story center stage. Even so, in a scene cut too short- literally stopped by a 5 second blackout- the three musketeers get into a bar brawl with flying mugs and chairs… in slow motion! Arguably the most visually arresting (albeit random) scene in the whole show.

Concerning design, when the sun finally disappeared and the front lighting hit the stage just right, the park faded into nonexistence and you could fully bask in CTH’s colorful production. Costume designer Rachel Dozier-Ezell’s mix of bold and bright patterns added a layer of captivation to the dancers dresses, the Queen of France’s (Afia Abusham) ball gown, and of course the musketeers. Consider this, could Athos, Porthos and Aramis (Brandon Carter) have made better entrances without velvet capes and striped pantalons paired with floral chemisiers, paisley vests and cheetah print boots? I think not!

If Paris, France represents a little respite amidst the chaos of a troubled world, with sword fights and cautionary tales of love gone wrong, then yes, CTH’s The Three Musketeers definitely brought a little France to Harlem.

Courtesy of The Classical Theatre of Harlem

Location: Richard Rodgers Amphitheater, Marcus Garvey Park. Free and open to the public.

Creative: By Catherine Bush, adapted from the novel by Alexandre Dumas. Directed by Jenny Bennett. Choreography by Tiffany Rea-Fisher. Fight Choreography by Emmanuel Brown.

Cast: Starring Miriam Hyman, Emmanuel Brown, Brandon Carter, Reynaldo Piniella, Michael Early, R.J. Foster, Anthony Merchant and Piera Van de Weil. Featuring Afia Abusham, Jeffrey Alkins, Jamar Brathwaite, Avon Haughton, Ava McCoy, Nedra Snipes, Jorge Sanchez, Jak Watson and The Elisa Monte Dance Company.

Running Time: 90 minutes, no intermission

Through July 30

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We Were There

We Were There: Kill Move Paradise Rattles With Power, Pain And Joy

Jerrica White

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Earlier this week, Jeronimo Yanez joined the list of police officers who have been acquitted of charges linked to the shooting deaths of Black men.  Yanez is now a free man,  while Philando Castile is and the pursuit for justice is dead.  In a country more interested in short-sighted ignorance over comprehensive explanation and dialogue, we fight for our humanity against the demonization of our brothers, sisters, sons and daughters.  All losing their life for simply being Black in America.   Consequently, we pick up the shattered pieces of our human emotion and reassemble the portraits of the lives taken from us.

Philando Castile’s last words were: “I wasn’t reaching for it.”  Mike Brown’s: “I don’t have a gun.  Stop shooting.”  Oscar Grant’s: “You shot me. You shot me!”  Trayvon Martin’s: “What are you following me for?”

James Ijames’ daring Kill Move Paradise is now on stage at the National Black Theatre.  Through an expressionistic interpretation on the value of life, Ijames demands reform in the way we remember those who have been slain at the hands of state sanctioned violence.

Power, poison, pain, and joy boomerang across the fun house mirrors of Maruti Evans’ set.  The audience, although left off the program, is a characterization of America.  We look each other eye to eye in a space which eerily calls to memory a one-way mirror interrogation room. However, it is not dark enough.  There is no masking their pain, or our pain.  There is both freedom and hopelessness as we contort with conviction under strobe lights, checked privilege, and emotional discomfort. So we look on, so we lean in, as 4 men, 4 Black men, query in heartbreaking harmony: where are we and how did we get here?

Ryan Swain, Donnell E. Smith, Clinton Lowe, & Sidiki Fofana Photo via National Black Theatre

Isa (Ryan Swain), Grif (Donnell E. Smith), Daz (Clinton Lowe) and Tiny (Sidiki Fofana), give equally dynamic and affecting performances as part of the list, a “cohort,” which includes Mike Brown, Eric Garner, and Trayvon Martin.  This list mirrors the circumstance of present day as it grows in length by the moment.  As time passes and reality becomes more clear, we squirm as we sit with new questions rooted in the protocol for the perished: What is the rhythm of the first breath on the other side?  What is the cadence of these first steps and who is there to hold our hand as we stumble on the terrain of the unknown? 

Saheem Ali directs with sharp shears, perfectly inserting humanity into this cavity between heaven and hell.  4 men.  4 beautiful Black men become Heroes.  Swain is eloquence.  He is grace and the fluidity of our movement.  Smith is the sunshine in the eye of a man that carries a dream and is equipped with the tools to carry it out.  Lowe is equal parts heart and soul, a fierce protector, a friend.  Fofana is the harrowing sound a needle makes when it hits the center of the vinyl, the record is Innocence and there’s no side B.  Together, these men represent the hopes, dreams, and aspirations of those snatched from this earth before their time.

Time has a cruel way of repeating itself here. Kill Move Paradise is uncomfortable but it has to be.  We sit and watch death repeat itself to the point of satire.  In these moments, how can we not be provoked and challenged to rise out of own complacency?  The beautiful thing about art is we have the power to use it to metabolize our fear, anger, and sorrow.  Let this work be the reminder that we’re here to reclaim our stories. This is the Battlecry which sings we are our brother’s keeper.  This is the ignition in the revolution of radical empathy.

Kill Move Paradise is the most urgent play you can see this season.  Don’t miss your opportunity!  Performances are Mondays, Thursdays, and Fridays at 7:30; Saturdays at 2 and 7:30; and Sundays at 4, thru June 25th.

The production team includes Maruti Evans (Set), Alan C. Edwards  (Lighting), Ntokozo Fuzunina Kunene  (Costumes), Palmer Hefferan (Sound), Darrell Moultrie (Movement), Darius Smith (Musical Director), and Christina Franklin (Production Stage Manager).

For more information and to purchase tickets visit nationalblacktheatre.org.

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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

We Were There: Condola Rashad and Laurie Metcalf in Lucas Hnath’s A Doll’s House, Part 2

Jerrica White

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hnath

Part of the magic of live theatre is the suspension of reality achieved by sitting in a dark room with strangers as you’re transported to another world. You’re relieved of clearing your work email. You’re unchained from the claws of Sallie Mae. Your anxiety rests. Whether you come to the theatre to laugh, cry, learn, or heal—you come with a clear heart and mind, with the expectation to experience life through a lens that is not wholly yours. Lucas Hnath unapologetically roots us in reality in his play A Doll’s House, Part 2.

In his take on the life after Henrik Ibsen’s 1879 masterpiece, A Doll’s House, Hnath poses the question of what happens when the rocket ship doesn’t take off. What happens when you’re stuck squarely in the confines of your own living room, and more hauntingly, within the raw thoughts of your mind?

15 years later and Nora returns to the very door she slammed, ending the life she shared with her husband and three kids. The question is why.

Walking down the orchestra aisles in John Golden Theatre felt like picking my seat on the floor in front of the television. I cosied myself into my seat and took in the set— the absence of objects that might reference or represent life, love, and family; just as my eyes landed on the enormous black door, the lights went down and the story began.

As a bit of reference, Ibsen’s A Doll’s House is quite “woke,” if I do say so myself, covering topics like the role of women in a marriage, marriage expectations, and women’s rights. Hnath carries this torch into this new work, directed by Fun Home’s Sam Gold, and continues the conversation with poignance.

Laurie Metcalf has the intimidating task of bringing us into the mind of a woman who believes leaving her husband and children was the only way to activate her free will and identity, and she does so with great deliberation. Her Nora, the independent writer who has “made it,” but wants everyone to know the road wasn’t easy, is equal parts sarcastic, petty, touching, and unapologetic.

Photo Flash: First Look at Laurie Metcalf & Chris Cooper in A DOLL'S HOUSE, PART 2

Image: Brigitte Lacombe

The relatability in Hnath’s voice reverberates back and forth through the fast-paced dialogue. One minute you’re admiring the pleats and frills in Nora’s period-appropriate bodice, and the next you’re realizing, no matter how firm in your beliefs you stand, you empathize and connect with the well-balanced conversations carried out in modern vernacular, from the point of view of Norma, Torvald (played by a sincere Chris Cooper), and Anne Marie (Tony winner Jayne Houdyshell). And did I mention it’s laugh-out-audibly-loud funny?

Smart and endearing, Emmy (Condola Rashad) is a force against her estranged mother’s shameless manipulation. She is curiosity and a second chance, stained, but not damaged, with latent dismay. Although only in the show for one scene, Rashad’s delicate and redeeming grace will leave with you.

We don’t leave the room wondering who was right or who was wrong, rather whose voice is loudest in the back of our own heads as we walk—or not walk—in our truth. Life is complicated, and so is love. What did you take away from A Doll’s House, Part 2? Sound off in the comments below!

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