Since its Broadway debut in 1959, A Raisin in the Sun has become one of the perennial favorites of Black theatre, with two Broadway revivals, a film, a musical and a television movie, as well as regular appearances in regional theatres throughout the country. On September 18, the award-winning drama opened at the Harlem Repertory Theatre with guest director, Lee Summers.
Summers, who’s best known for creating and producing Off-Broadway’s From My Hometown: A Rag To Riches Celebration of the American Dream In Classic Rhythm & Blues, made his Broadway debut in the original production of Dreamgirls. Since then, he has appeared Off-Broadway in Miss Marguarita’s Way with Estelle Parsons, as an original cast member of From My Hometown, in the musical Little Ham, as well as in numerous cabaret and regional performances.
As a director, Summers has directed shows in venues ranging from New York’s Urban Stages, AMAS Musical Theatre, New World Stages, The Triad Theatre, Flushing Town Hall, Theatreworks in Palo Alto, CA, The Milwaukee Repertory Theatre and many more.
A Raisin in the Sun, written by Lorraine Hansberry, was the first play written by an African American woman to be produced on Broadway, where it won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play. The American classic takes place in the late 1950’s on Chicago’s South Side, and revolves around the dreams and conflicts within three generations of the Younger family: son “Walter Lee,” his wife “Ruth,” his sister “Beneatha,” his son “Travis,” and family matriarch “Lena,” called “Mama.”
The Harlem Repertory Theatre is a professional theatre company based in the heart of Harlem in New York City, founded by Keith Lee Grant. The Harlem Repertory Theatre will run the play every Friday at 7pm until December 11th. The theatre’s resident acting company includes Mario C. Brown, Kyria Geneva, Mabel Gomez, Roberto A. Guzman Jr., Jarrid Jones, Bianca Madison, Derrick Montalvo, Eric “Le Roy” Myles, and Joe Sabateur.
For information on tickets and directions, visit www.harlemrepertorytheatre.com.
The first Broadway revival of the play ran at the Royale Theatre from April 26, 2004 to July 11, 2004. The cast included Sean Combs as “Walter Lee,” Phylicia Rashad as “Lena,” Audra McDonald as “Ruth,” and Sanaa Lathan as “Beneatha.” It was directed by Kenny Leon and received two Tony awards: Best Actress in a Play (Rashad) and Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play (McDonald).
A second revival ran ten years later from April 3, 2014 to June 15, 2014 at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre with Denzel Washington in the lead role of “Walter Lee.” Other cast members included Sophie Okonedo as “Ruth,” LaTanya Richardson Jackson as “Lena,” and Anika Noni Rose as “Beneatha.” Leon again directed and the play won three 2014 Tony Awards: Best Revival of a Play, Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play (Okonedo) and Best Direction of a Play (Leon).
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.