New York City might have been extremely cold the night Broadway Black went to see Colman Domingo’s Dot, but inside the Vineyard Theatre was a story that was sure to warm your heart.
From the start of the show, you can tell there is something not quite right with Dotty (Marjorie Johnson), the spunky matriarch of a black, middle-class West Philadelphia family. At first glance, it seems like her oldest daughter Shelly (Sharon Washington) is being overdramatic and being short with her mother for no reason, but it soon becomes clear that there’s a good reason for her stressed-out behavior. Dotty shifts from being mildly entertaining and funny to slightly forgetful and upset. She repeatedly asks her daughter what time it is, retells stories to their visitor, and it’s clear to the audience she’s showing increasing signs of Alzheimer’s.
To make matters worse, Shelly can’t get in contact with her two other siblings Donnie (Stephen Conrad Moore) and Averie (Libya V. Puch) to help bear the burden of keeping tabs on their mother. It isn’t until Shelly’s breaking point that Donnie finally arrives with his husband, in the midst of their marital issues. Moore truly brings Donnie to life, as we see him struggle with what he wants out of his relationship with Adam. There’s also a heartbreaking moment with Johnson, that requires Donnie to literally put himself in Dotty’s shoes, and the results are some of the strongest acting moments on stage. Averie soon comes after, her diva-like presence certainly brightens up the mood of the show and her character offers some of the plays most hilarious lines. Puch could easily over-do the extravagance of the character, but she plays her with humor, truth, and vulnerability. I’m sure everybody has an Averie in their family.
The standout performances have to be from Washington and Johnson alike. For me they were the most relatable, it was like seeing my family on that stage. Johnson’s Dotty was funny, lucid, mean, warm, loving, vulnerable and Johnson was able to play all of those emotions with such truth. It never felt like you were feeling sorry for Dotty, but you were able to empathize with how she felt about the situation. I think often times when dealing with dementia, the caretakers are so caught up with how they feel about the situation they don’t consider the perspective of the person who is actually dealing with the situation. That’s the case for Shelly. Washington played the part of the overstressed and micromanaging oldest daughter who still lives by the “I know what’s best,” mentality. There is a moment where her headstrong character indeed gets a crack in her armor and Washington plays it with such a natural child-like vulnerability.
Dot also features Colin Hanlon as the likable Adam, Finnerty Steeves and the neighborhood friend Jackie, and Michael Rosen as Dotty’s home-care provider Fidel.
I never would have thought I would use the word hilarious to describe a play where the lead character struggles with dementia, but it only seems like an appropriate adjective for this show. I’m reminded of a quote I was told by my grandmother once, “you laugh to keep from crying,” and with Dot I admit I actually did both. Even through the comedic moments, Dot never felt like it was tackling the issue lightly or making fun of the seriousness of dementia. In fact through the humor of the show it felt more real. Dot was funny, messy, rude, heart-wrenching, and all too familiar if you’ve ever had to deal with the deteriorating health of the family matriarch. And like any family, even though there are problems, the love you share for one another trumps all else, and by sticking together you’ll get through it.
Dot is playing at the Vineyard Theatre (108 East 15th Street New York, NY) until March 20th, tickets can be purchased here.
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.