Nollywood Dreams and “The Pool Plays”
Of Nollywood dreams, at the MCC Theater.
Photo: Daniel Vasquez
At Jocelyn Bioh Happy wives, the adaptation of Shakespeare in the Park this summer The Merry Wives of Windsor, about half of the jokes were from the bard, the other half from Bioh. Or, to be precise, half the humor was Thank you to Bioh, although she wasn’t always the person writing it. By redefining the bard’s farce in a West African community in Harlem, she provided a framework for the production’s designers to make their own tongue-in-cheek commentary. The jokes about the sets and costumes were often the best on the show – laughs Happy wives came at odd times, as people in one part of the audience noticed the pattern on Falstaff’s bedspread and another saw the lightsaber on his bedroom floor. The outfits received cheers and applause. And the texts of Bioh need that kind of richly realized world. His work is developed in a greenhouse: it does better in saturated air.
Bioh’s new comedy Nollywood dreams is no exception. Set in the early ’90s in Lagos, the play is a fantasy about a woman – sweet, funny, ambitious – rising like a rocket to stardom. As in the Ghanaian and Nigerian films that inspired Bioh’s play (BeyoncÃ©: the president’s daughter is available on YouTube!), the plot looks at a soap opera with a hidden side of social anxiety. Ingenuous Ayamma (Sandra Okuboyejo) auditions for the lead role in Nigerian filmmaker Gbenga’s latest film (Charlie Hudson III), but, as her sister Dede (Nana Mensah) points out, she has no training. Ayamma is not afraid either: âIt’s like I always say, all it takes is to be beautiful. The director will do the rest! All of Ayamma’s possible wishes are duly fulfilled – even stunning superstar Wale (a stunning Ade Otukoya) falls in love with her at first sight – and reality only briefly emerges, when her rival Fayola (Emana Rachelle) recalls. betrayals behind his despair.
It’s a pretty light thing. But are we at the theater for the intricacies of the plot? We are not. We are at Nollywood dreams revel in the details, marveling at costume designer Dede Ayite’s’ 90s Nigerian adornment – platform thongs and jeans as mustached and distressed as a pissed off cat. It is an immersion experience, a hot bath, a comforting meal. Audiences laugh fondly at the jokes hidden in the set of Arnulfo Maldonado (especially posters from previous Gbenga films) and fabulous TV host Adenikeh (Abena), whose talk show couch literally bursts into the background. between the beats of history. Abena played the sweet Anne Page in Happy wives, but here she grabs the reins of the play, flirts with the other actors when she operates them, merrily runs away with their scenes. Even when she’s not on stage, you wonder how tall and chatty Adenikeh will react to every dramatic twist. Ooh, Fayola is blackmail Gbenga !? You take off your flip-flops and grab the remote.
Meanwhile, in the city center, the Pool Plays do without spectacle. Originally, The Pool was a 2017 collective of three playwrights (Susan Bernfield, Lynn Rosen, and Peter Gil-Sheridan), who co-edited their work. They were following in the footsteps of 13P, another self-production group, which allowed writers to introduce themselves without having to go through the long process of institutional âdevelopmentâ. The pool is smaller – three instead of thirteen – but theoretically longer. After the first group produced their pieces, they passed the administrative framework of the Pool to a new trio. And once these new playwrights wrap up the microseason now at the New Ohio Theater, they’ll pass on the pool structure as well.
The current directory is The Ding Dong by Brenda Withers, Is Edward Snowden single? by Kate Cortesi, and Superstitions by Emily Zemba. I admit I was a little nervous about registering for the full race. (Isn’t it asking a lot for the three pieces in such a project to be good?) But every height is related; each at-bat earns a race. All three are a throwback to what Off-Off was originally for: smart writing, produced on a low budget, full of the sheer pleasure of doing things with words. But let me say the cord is very thin. Designer Masha Tsimring’s flexible repertoire set consists mostly of rolling grills that waltz around the low-ceiling Ohio to create various spaces. Things look a little dark – and there’s a stealthy vibe, as if the Poolers have taken over a corner of Ikea through the guerrillas. But the performances are all beautifully polished, so who needs an expensive set?
The Ding Dong (subtitle a meditation on internal security) is an absurd one-act act that might have appeared in the ’60s scene, reminiscent of an atmosphere of smiling menace a la Pinterish and a la Albee. A man named Redelmo (Robert Kropf) finds a couple, Joe and Natalie (Jonathan Fielding and Withers herself), at his doorstep. Baffled by their cheerful and arrogant conversation, Redelmo takes too long to realize that the move has finally come for himâ¦ as, the play suggests, he will come for all of us. Director Daisy Walker keeps the pace going, which leaves the way open for Withers’ wonderfully unsettling jokes. The language becomes more and more slippery, until, finally, Redelmo stumbles over it and immediately falls out of his life.
Playfulness in exquisite performance Is Edward Snowden single? is less linguistic and more metatheatrical: Kate Cortesi has her two best-best-better Friends characters Mimi (Elise Kibler) and April (Rebecca S’Manga Frank) address the audience directly, sometimes serving shots, sometimes demanding tips. (Kate Bergstrom directs.) The friends want to tell us how Mimi “discovered integrity,” so they all play the roles in a complicated and hilarious story, which ultimately features a teddy bear speaking with the voice of whistleblower Edward Snowden. . Cortesi is very good in chaos, less strong in morality, so the piece shrinks a bit when it comes to an end. But the lion’s share of his comedy is a beautifully tangy meditation on issues such as Should you let a cute boy demagnetize your ethical compass? The answer turns your needle.
You don’t have to pick favorites in such an even and collaborative effort, so I’ll just say that Emily Zemba Superstitions is the one I would return to see a second time. Sleek and eerie, it begins with a peculiar conversation between two strangers: hesitant Englishman Grieg (David Greenspan) and real estate agent Nereida (Latoya Edwards). The two discuss American superstitions, and soon pennies and streams of salt and weird long-fingered devils begin to emerge. Director Jenna Worsham’s production excels at turning the edges of the world into a nightmare, as husbands, partners and real estate clients behave in increasingly bizarre ways. I have my own little superstitions about going to the theater, actually. If I see a production as crisp and wonderful as Superstitions, my whole week will be good. This is something I wish you too, so cross your fingers, put a nickel in your left shoe and go.
Nollywood dreams is at the MCC Theater until November 28.
“The Pool Plays” is at the New Ohio Theater until November 20.