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.