If you’re anything like me, you read the title of these short plays and uttered a celebratory “YASSS!” This fall, get ready to do just that -and more- when The New Black Fest (with guest curator Dominique Morisseau) commissions five black women playwrights to write short plays entitled UN-TAMED: HAIR BODY ATTITUDE – Short Plays by Black Women. The playwrights are Cori Thomas, Nikkole Salter, Chisa Hutchinson, Lenelle Moise and Jocelyn Bioh.
The aim of UN-TAMED is to participate and dig deeper into the national conversation around Black womanhood and social perceptions of Black femininity while providing black women with a creative platform to personalize these issues.
Nikkole Salter: An Obie Award-winning actress and writer for the Pulitzer Prize nominated play, In The Continuum. She was most recently seen performing the role of ‘Cookie’ in the West Coast Premiere of Tarell McCraney‘s new play Head of Passes at Berkeley Repertory Theatre. As a dramatist, Salter has written 6 full-length plays, been commissioned for full-length work by six institutions, been produced in five countries on three continents, and been published in twelve international publications. Her plays include Lines in the Dust, Carnaval, Repairing a Nation and the co-authored Freedom Rider. Salter is a 2014 MAP Fund Grant recipient, a Eugene O’Neill Theater Center National Playwrights Conference semi-finalist, and a two time Playwrights of New York (PoNY) Fellowship nominee. She is currently working on commissions from Woolly Mammoth, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and was selected to write the screen adaptation of Claude Brown‘s New York Times Bestselling novel, Manchild in the Promised Land. She also serves as Executive Director of THE CONTINUUM PROJECT, INC., a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that creates innovative artistic programming for community empowerment and enrichment. Salter is an active member of the Actors Equity Association, SAG/AFTRA, the Dramatists Guild, and sits on the board of the Theatre Communications Group. She received her BFA in theatre from Howard University and her MFA from New York University’s Graduate Acting Program.
Chisa Hutchinson: Earned a B.A. in Dramatic Arts from Vassar College and an M.F.A. in Playwriting from NYU. She’s been writing and performing with the New York NeoFuturists and is a Staff Writer for Blue Man Group. Hutchinson tends to write plays about underrepresented folks that require a minimum of five actors. Her plays include Dirt Rich, She Like Girls, This is Not The Play, Sex on Sunday, Tunde’s Trumpet, The Subject, Mama’s Gonna Buy You, Somebody’s Daughter, Alondra was Here and Dead & Breathing. Hutchinson has presented at various venues such as Lark Play Development Center, City Parks’ Summerstage, Working Man’s Clothes, the New York NeoFuturists, Partial Comfort, Mad Dog Productions, Atlantic Theater Company, the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, and many more. She has won a GLAAD Award, the John Golden Award for Excellence in Playwriting, a Lilly Award, a New York Innovative Theatre Award, the Paul Green Award, a Helen Merrill Award, the Lanford Wilson Award, and has been a finalist for the highly coveted PoNY Fellowship.
Cori Thomas: Thomas’ plays include: When January Feels Like Summer, Pa’s Hat: Liberian Legacy, My Secret Language of Wishes, and His Daddy. Her plays have been developed and produced at Sundance Theatre Lab, Goodman Theatre, City Theatre Co., Page 73, Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Playwrights Horizon, Lark Play Development Center, Ensemble Studio Theatre, Going To The River, Pillsbury House Theatre, and many more. She has received the Edgerton New Play Award from Sundance Theatre Lab, and the 2011 American Theatre Critics Association Osborn Award for Best New Play (When January Feels Like Summer). Thomas is a co- founder of The Pa’s Hat Foundation, Inc., an organization focused on helping former child soldiers of Liberia heal after long-standing civil war through a focus on arts education and literacy.
Lenelle Moïse: Author of Haiti Glass (City Lights/ Sister Spit), an internationally touring performer, and a Huntington Theater Company Playwriting Fellow. Her two-act comedy Merit won the 2012 Southern Rep Ruby Prize. She also wrote, composed, and co-starred in the critically acclaimed drama Expatriate, which launched Off Broadway at the Culture Project.
Jocelyn Bioh: Proud native New Yorker. As a playwright she’s credited with African Americans (Southern Rep Ruby Prize Finalist 2011), Nollywood Dreams, Four, and the libretto for The Ladykiller’s Love Story currently in development with Hi-Arts NYC. She graduated with a B.A in English/Theatre from Ohio State University and an M.F.A in Theatre – Playwriting from Columbia University. Acting credits include Broadway: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. Off Broadway: An Octoroon, Seed, and Neighbors. Regional: BootyCandy, Marcus; or the Secret of Sweet. TV: “Louie” (FX,) “One Life to Live” (ABC), CoverGirl Spokesmodel (National Commercial/Print Ads).
The New Black Fest previously commissioned Facing Our Truth: Short Plays on Trayvon, Race and Privilege and HANDS UP: 6 Playwrights, 6 Testaments and prides itself on being a movement that “is a gathering of artists, thinkers, activists and audiences who are dedicated to stretching, interrogating and uplifting the Black aesthetic.”
This is most certainly a great step in that direction. In my mind it’s going to be a mixture of concepts presented by Patricia Hill Collins, bell hooks, and beauty shop chair talk all brought to life by these five talented Black female playwrights. It’s a production I don’t want to miss, and neither do you.
Un-Tamed: Hair, Body Attitude will play at The Martin Segal Theatre at CUNY Graduate Center in October 2015.
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.