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We Were There: Sojourners A New Play By Mfoniso Udofia

Jazmine Harper-Davis

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photos by Chasi Annexy

Is that a statue or a real person?

I couldn’t imagine being in character and rigidly in place for pre-show up until start time. But somehow, the actors did. I almost felt like an outsider peeking into a home that I had no right to be in. Before I can figure out my feelings, the lights go dark and the rotating platform that also serves as the set (4 separate settings) begins to move. Sojourners has officially started. We are immediately introduced to our main character, Abasiama (Chinasa Ogpuagu), going through the pains of pregnancy. The Houston apartment is artistically and most accurately decorated to match its 1970’s era.

Our lead character is charming and playful when we meet her, only to be a outdone by her over-enthusiastic husband Ukpong, played by Hubert Point-Du Jour. It’s then we learn through their interactions that they were arranged to be married by their fathers and, from their attire — she is wrapped in traditional Nigerian garb and he in a patterned dress shirt, leather coat,  hat and jeans —  they aren’t on the same page. This message becomes much clearer as the play goes on, as Ukpong and Abasiama have different ideas of what the American Dream should be. Sojourners deals with different cultures coming to America for a better life, but also falling for its irresistible charm.

The cast is small in size, but their combined interactions make for great storytelling. The dynamic between Abasiama and hilarious southern prostitute Moxie (Lakisha Michelle May) is fun to watch. At first glance, these two couldn’t be anything alike; however, over the course of time their relationship is essentially co-dependent and beautiful to watch. Two Black women just getting along with one another and being supportive.

Rounding out the cast is Chinaza Uche’s Disciple. I won’t spoil the story, but his character is one I can’t quite figure out and I’m not sure if I’m supposed to know if he’s good or bad. He’s intriguing, to say the least, and he and Moxie deliver one of the most emotional scenes of the play.

It was cool to watch a play told from the point of view of a native Nigerian-born woman, who has integrated into American culture. She is trying to maintain her own cultural values without compromising herself, but also trying to adjust to American life. There’s a moment when she’s eating a traditional Nigerian dish when her husband convinces her to try pickles, and another character gets her hooked on Snickers bars. Little moments like that made me feel like I was having these new American experiences for the first time as well. I felt her urgency as she tried her best to give in to the American dream but found it not to be all it was cracked up to be. She must also acknowledge whether her own cultural beliefs are good or bad.

A major theme that I took away from the show was choices. We all have the ability to make choices and the ones we make don’t just impact us, but also those around us. It’s a choice that Abasiama makes in the end that will have the audience leaving with lots of questions.

Performances for Sojourners at Playwrights Realm run January 25 – 30: Monday – Wednesday, Friday & Saturday at 7:30 PM; February 1 – 6: Monday – Friday at 7:30 PM; Saturday at 2 PM & 7:30 PM; February 9 – 13: Tuesday -Saturday at 7:30 PM. Tickets range in price from $25 to $35 and can be purchased through TicketCentral.com, by calling (212) 279-4200, 12pm to 8pm daily, or by visiting the Ticket Central box office at 416 W. 42nd Street.

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Events and Happenings

Erika Dickerson-Despenza Addresses Flint Water Crisis with Cullud Wattah

Drew Shade

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Playwright Erika Dickerson-Despenza

There is limited seating left for Erika Dickerson-Despenza’s new play CULLUD WATTAH at The Public Theater. Opening today, Thursday, March 7th and running until Sunday, March 10th in the Public Studio is about three generations of Black women living through the current water crisis in Flint, Michigan.

“It’s been 936 days since Marion’s family has had clean water. When local activists file a class action lawsuit against the city, Marion—a third-generation employee at General Motors—must decide how best to support her two daughters, sister, and mother while lead seeps into the community, their home, and their bodies. As corrosive memories and secrets rise among them, the family wonders if they’ll ever be able to filter out the truth.”

2018 Relentless Award Semifinalist and poet-playwright makes her Public Theater debut with CULLUD WATTAH directed by Lilly Award winner Candis C. Jones; the cast includes Deonna Bouye (Marion), Alana Raquel Bowers (Reesee), Caroline Stefanie Clay (Big Ma), Nikiya Mathis (Ainee), and Kara Young (Plum).

The creative team includes Production Stage Manager Gregory Fletcher, Stage Manager Priscilla Villanueva, and Movement Director Adesola Osakalumi. Along with scenic design by Arnulfo Maldonado, Costume Design by Ntokozo Fuzunina Kunene, lighting Design by Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew, and sound design by Megan Culley

We believe in this work so much we’re giving away 4 tickets to the performances on March 10th. 2 tickets to the matinee and two the evening performance thanks to our founder Drew Shade and actress/playwright Jocelyn Bioh. Go to our Instagram to find out how!

Also, find out more about how you can help the Flint Water Crisis and support this show HERE.

Listen to Erika talk about her work on an episode of Off Book Podcast below

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Events and Happenings

Surely Goodness and Mercy by Chisa Hutchinson Begins Off-Broadway

Broadway Black

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Performances begin today, Tuesday February 26th, for the New York premiere of  Surely Goodness and Mercy, presented by Keen Company. A story about an exceptional boy living a troubled life in Newark, NJ who does a good deed for an often unnoticed person.   Sarita Covington, Jay Mazyck, Brenda Pressley, Courtney Thomas, and Cezar Williams star under Jessi D. Hill’s direction.

Set in an under-funded public school in Newark, Surely Goodness and Mercy by rising playwright Chisa Hutchinson, tells the story of a bible-toting boy with a photographic memory who befriends the cantankerous old lunch lady. Against all odds, Tino and Bernadette help each other through the mess of growing up and growing old.  

Surely Goodness and Mercy has spent the last year charming audiences across the country: “Notably absent from Hutchinson’s frank and sobering story: cynicism” – Chicago Reader; “(Surely Goodness and Mercy has) a soul-stirring quality, touching audiences with its sincerity” – Daily Utah Chronicle; “it’s impossible not to like it” – The Salt Lake Tribune. Now, Keen is honored to bring this big-hearted new play to New York for the first time.

Performances for this limited Off-Broadway engagement of Surely Goodness and Mercy will continue through Saturday, April 13th only, with opening night set for Wednesday, March 13th.

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