What is life right now?! Well, we’ll tell you. Life is heaven because it was announced today that Phylicia Rashad will return to the stage in Tarell Alvin McCraney’s Head of Passes. The show will play The Public Theater, starting with previews on March 15th. The play will be directed by Tina Landau. Phylicia Rashad returns to The Public to play “Shelah” in this deeply moving new drama about family, acceptance, and the power of faith. Rashad last appeared at The Public in The Story by Tracey Scott Wilson in 2003. An official press opening will happen on Monday, March 28.
We previously talked about a run of Head of Passes at Berkeley Repertory Theatre to rave reviews back in May starring Cheryl Lynn Bruce. So, we’re so excited that Tony Award winner Phylicia Rashad has signed on and that this new mounting is a co-production with Berkley Rep. Joining her in the cast of the nine person play includes Alana Arenas (Cookie), Francois Battiste (Aubrey), Kyle Beltran (Crier), and J. Bernard Calloway (Spencer). This is something you do not want to miss. The show is being billed as follows:
Tarell Alvin McCraney, MacArthur Award-winning playwright of the acclaimed Brother/Sister Plays, has written a poetic and contemporary parable inspired by the Book of Job. At the mouth of the Mississippi River, Shelah’s family and friends have come to celebrate her birthday and save her from a leaking roof, but unexpected events turn the reunion into the ultimate test of faith and love. As her world seems to collapse around her, Shelah must fight to survive the rising flood of life’s greatest challenges.
Watch a discussion at Head of Passes with the playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney below!
You know how tickets fly at the The Public Theatre so get them as soon as you can! Do whatever you need to do but do not miss this show. Just in case you don’t understand why we’re so excited about Queen Rashad taking on this role, check her résumé and see how much she slays. Long after the Cosby days she has made waves in the theatre world.
PHYLICIA RASHAD (Shelah) was last seen at The Public in The Story by Tracey Scott Wilson in 2003, as well as in Helen in 2002, and Everybody’s Rudy in 1999. She is a versatile performer who became a household name when she portrayed “Claire Huxtable” on “The Cosby Show,” a character whose appeal has earned numerous honors and awards for over two decades. While television was a catalyst in the rise of Rashad’s career, she has also been a force on the stage, appearing both on and off-Broadway, often in projects that showcase her musical talent such as Jelly’s Last Jam, Into The Woods, Dreamgirls, and The Wiz. As a dramatic actress, Rashad has appeared on Broadway in August Osage County, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (also West End), Gem Of The Ocean (Tony nomination), A Raisin in the Sun (Drama Desk and Tony Awards) and Cymbeline. She appeared in Tyler Perry’s Good Deeds, and starred in Perry’s highly acclaimed film version of Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Is Enuf. She made her directorial debut at the Seattle Repertory Theater with August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean and has directed works at The Ebony Repertory, Kirk Douglas Theatre, Westport County Playhouse, Mark Taper, Longwharf Theatre, and the McCarter Theatre. Rashad has received numerous honorary doctorate degrees and awards for excellence both in theater and television.
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.
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