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A Must See

We Were There: Dear Evan Hansen

Jerrica White

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When you’re falling in a forest and there’s nobody around, do you ever really crash or make a sound?

Dear Evan Hansen made its New York City premiere at Second Stage Theater and is on a sold out run through May 29, 2016. I must say, I wasn’t excited to reprise my role as Jerrica, the awkward 17-year-old starting her senior year of high school, through watching this performance. What I didn’t expect was that I, at 24, would be so moved.

The production asks #whoisevanhansen, and I have to say Forgiven.

Meet Evan Hansen, or rather, the awkward, socially anxious, and shy spirit that lives inside us or inside someone we know.

All his life Evan Hansen has felt invisible. To his peers, to the girl he loves, sometimes even to his own mother. But that was before he wrote the letter – that led to the incident – that started the lie – that ignited a movement – that inspired a community – and changed Evan’s status from the ultimate outsider into the somebody everyone wants to know. But how long can Evan keep his secret? And at what price?

Twitter. Instagram. Snapchat. Facebook.

It’s not an option to be unconnected in this generation. While depression and social anxiety have been around for ages, it’s not until now that it’s possible to be hyper-connected online, yet lack the ability to connect in real life.

Do I even make a sound?

It’s like I never made a sound.

Ben Platt (Evan Hansen) blew me away with the ministry that is voice and his storytelling. He is giving his sweat and tears and singing for the blood, letting us into the mind of Evan Hansen. He is delivering us. He is saving us. He is starting a conversation.

When you enter the Tony Kiser Theater at Second Stage, you see a bed and a computer. The main components and basic necessities of many of our lives.  The set, by David Korins, continues to transform as the story continues. It intermixes the storytelling with never-ending Twitter and Facebook posts projected onto scrims, which only further illustrates the state of our modern world—where nothing is private and everything is up for discussion.

The score took me there. My God! Dear Evan Hansen brings out so many raw feelings— grief, loneliness, insecurity, and manages to evoke equal parts tears and laughter, but what translates the introspection and ties this all together is the fresh pop-rock score by Benj Pasek & Justin Paul— the team that brought us A Christmas Story, Dogfight, and NBC’s “Smash” #THANKYOU. The book by Steven Levenson (Showtime’s “Masters of Sex”) and direction by Michael Greif (Next to Normal, Rent) takes an ambitious story and makes it smart and clear; it helps us decode what it means to be a family in this day and age.

I’m stuck somewhere in the middle. Somewhere between the parent learning to balance raising a young adult and continuing to lead a life that fulfills their own passion and purpose, and a teen finding myself in the context of a social media. This story is for both.

Dear Evan Hansen is about decisions. It questions if intent enough to forgive action. It’s about the healing power of love. It’s about growth. It’s about telling yourself the truth and living in your truth.

It’s because of this— the importance, the significance, and the timeliness, that I’m still humming the music of Benj Pasek & Justin Paul, and in utter awe of the powerful performance Ben Platt blessed me with.

Dear Evan Hansen will live on for decades to come. In the mean time, where’s the cast album!? We’ll keep you updated on what’s next for Dear Evan Hansen.

The cast includes: Kristolyn Lloyd, Jennifer Laura Thompson, Rachel Bay Jones, John Dossett, Laura Dreyfuss, Mike Faist, and Will Roland.

For information on student/rush tickets and cancellation lines click HERE

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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

Our Story in 2 Plays for 1 Price: Mfoniso Udofia’s Sojourners & Her Portmanteau

Jerrica White

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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.

Image result for Sojourners and Her Portmanteau

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.

The cast includes Jenny JulesLakisha Michelle MayAdepero OduyeChinasa OgbuaguHubert Point-Du Jour, and Chinaza Uche.

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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