THOUGHTS: runboyrun at the Magic Theatre

Disciple - runboyrun

Disciple (Adrian Roberts*) returns home from work on a cold Massachusetts evening.
(Photo credit Jennifer Reiley)

We are introduced to the story of runboyrun through ghosts, although we do not yet know that that is what they are. At the beginning of the play they are just two characters from a different time and place: Sister (Katherine Turner) and Boy (Rotimi Agbabiaka).

The meat of the action begins with Disciple (Adrian Roberts) returning home to his wife, Abasiama (Omoze Idehenre), who is buried under blankets, trying to keep out the frigid New England winter. After a tense exchange, he descends into the basement where he strips off his outerwear and tries to write about Nigeria. It is there in the basement that the ghosts come to him. He doesn’t see them, but he senses their presence, as they inhabit the space, to the point of physically invading his.

The ghosts: Sister, Boy, Mother (Nancy Moricette), and Ben Gun (Rafael Jordan), are a point of contention between Disciple and Abasiama. He is convinced that they are her doing and is suspicious to the point where he thinks she might be poisoning him with her traditional, Nigerian, cooking. She has no idea what he’s talking about but senses that something is seriously wrong.

As we come to find out, it is not her at all, but his own memories of the Biafran War that are haunting him. Boy is Disciple fifty years earlier. The others are his family.

SIster and Boy

Sister (Katherine Renee Turner*) and boy (Rotimi Agbabiaka*) play a favorite game.
(Photo credit Jennifer Reiley)

Mfoniso Udofia has written a play that hits you hard and never lets up. The dialogue is peppered with vivid images of Nigeria during the war. You can’t help but feel for the characters, both in the past and the present, as they try to navigate their circumstances. The actors take Udofia’s text and make it their own right down to the Ibibo accents. Accents can sometimes feel stilted, even if they are technically correct, but that it not the case here.

Where the production falters is in the set. It is difficult to have two distinct spaces on a small stage so the delineation between the basement and the first floor gets muddled. Because of this, it is sometimes unclear whether the ghosts are haunting only Disciple, or Abasiama as well.

I also found the direction and pacing to be off. Overall this is a dark play with some moments of levity, but even with a dark, intense, play it is important to have an ebb and flow. Here, the action is constantly frenzied, and especially towards the second half there are few moments of calm. I would have liked Sean San Jose to find the quiet intensity in the story as well as the frenetic energy.

Overall, this play is well worth the trek out to Fort Mason. Udofia is a talented playwright and the cast is superb. It is not often that we get to see African or African immigrant stories on stage in this country, and it is important that those narratives get told.

Reasons to Go

  • Beautifully rendered story of an immigrant experience that is not often written about in the US
  • The acting is top notch
  • The storytelling includes a history lesson about Nigeria post-independence

Who should go: Adults and teens, although there are some moments that could be upsetting for a younger audience

Tips:

  • Fort Mason is off the beaten track for many San Franciscans and East Bay residents, so make a day of it and visit the rest of the site
  • Read AIC’s Sojourner’s review for a background about the characters

Themes: marriage, the immigrant experience, Nigerian history, Biafran war

Show information: runboyrun is playing at the Magic Theatre, Fort Mason Center, 2 Marina Boulevard, Building D, San Francisco until May 15. Tickets available on the Magic Theatre website.

 

THOUGHTS: Sojourners at the Magic Theatre

Sojourners-Press-3

Abasiama (Katherine Turner) is surprised by Moxie (Jamella Cross) during the graveyard shift at work. (Photo Credit Jennifer Reiley)

I admit that when I first read that Mfoniso Udofia’s Sojourners was part of a 9-play cycle of works about the same Nigerian immigrant family in Texas, my first reaction was wariness. Would this story feel complete or would I feel like I had merely seen a prologue to an unfinished longer tale? Would the characters I was about to meet really be intriguing and complex enough that they’d warrant 8 more stories about them? I needn’t have been concerned. I left the Magic Theatre feeling very much that I had seen a play with a complete narrative arc, yet wanting to know more about the bright, ambitious Abasiama (Katherine Renee Turner), balancing a late-term pregnancy with full-time studies on a Student Visa, her charming but woefully unreliable husband by arranged-marriage Ukpong (Jarrod Smith), the aptly nicknamed teen-prostitute Moxie (Jamella Cross) whom Abasiama befriends at the gas station where she works, and Abasiama’s devout, devoted admirer, the equally aptly named Disciple Ufot (Rotimi Agbabika). Continue reading

THOUGHTS: aubergine at Berkeley Rep

Ray and Lucien

(l to r) Tyrone Mitchell Henderson (Lucien) and Tim Kang (Ray) in Julia Cho’s Aubergine at Berkeley Rep.
Photo courtesy of kevinberne.com

aubergine opens with a single character, Diane (Safiya Fredericks), on a bare stage. Her appearance, and her monologue, could represent the next two hours: lean, contemplative, and full of food and familial relationships.

Ray (Tim Kang) is a chef whose relationship with his immigrant father (Sab Shimono) could be described as strained at best. But now his father is dying, and Ray is his primary caregiver.

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TALKS: Cheryl L Davis

Cheryl L Davis backstage at Bridges. Photo by Paul Chinn provided by the Berkeley Playhouse

Cheryl L Davis backstage at Bridges. Photo by Paul Chinn, provided by the Berkeley Playhouse

Arts in Color recently had the opportunity to interview multi-talented playwright, librettist, lyricist, and screenwriter Cheryl L Davis, who impressively balances her day job as a partner in a law firm with her award-winning writing career. In 2005, she won the prestigious Kleban Prize in Musical Theater for her work as a librettist. The same year, her musical Barnstormer was recognized with a Jonathan Larson Performing Arts Award via the The Lark Play Development Center. More recently, a 2014 production of her play Maid’s Door was recognized with 7 Vivian Robinson/AUDELCO “VIV” Recognition Awards for Excellence in Black Theatre, including Best Playwright and Dramatic Production of the Year.

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THOUGHTS: Bridges at the Berkeley Playhouse

A fearful Francine Williams (Janelle Lasalle) marches for freedom on Bloody Sunday in Berkeley Playhouse's World Premiere production of Bridges: A New Musical directed by Karen Altree Piemme, performing at the Julia Morgan Theater, Now – March 6, 2016. Photo by Ben Krantz Studio.

Francine Williams (Janelle Lasalle) marches for freedom on Bloody Sunday in 1965 Selma, Alabama. Photo by Ben Krantz Studio.

From now until March 6th, the Berkeley Playhouse is presenting the world premiere of Bridges, a musical by librettist Cheryl L. Davis and composer Douglas J. Cohen. Bridges is set in 1965 in Alabama during the Selma to Montgomery marches and in 2008 in the Bay Area, during a seminal election when Proposition 8 (making same-sex marriage illegal) was on the ballot and Barack Obama was in a race to become our nation’s first African American—and first biracial— president.

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THOUGHTS: Skeleton Crew by Dominique Morisseau

DominiqueRubenPlaywright Dominique Morisseau and Tony® and Obie Award winning actor and director Ruben Santiago-Hudson team up with Atlantic Theater Company (Neil Pepe, Artistic Director; Jeffory Lawson, Managing Director) to present the world premiere of Morisseau ’s play Skeleton Crew.

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THOUGHTS: Disgraced at Berkeley Rep

Dinner party - Disgraced

(l to r) Bernard White (Amir), Nisi Sturgis (Emily), Zakiya Young (Jory), and J. Anthony Crane (Isaac) in Ayad Akhtar’s Disgraced, an engrossing and combustible drama that probes the complexity of identity, at Berkeley Rep.
Photo credit: Liz Lauren

It seems Pakistani-American Amir Kapoor (Bernard White) is living the American Dream. He has an Upper East Side apartment complete with a balcony; a beautiful, blonde, artist wife Emily (Nisi Sturgis); and he is poised to make partner at his corporate law firm. But one New York Times story, and an explosive dinner party with his co-worker Jory (Zakiya Young) and her husband Isaac (J. Anthony Crane) threatens to shatter everything that he has worked for.

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THOUGHTS: Monstress at A.C.T.

Checkers Rosario (Sean San Jose), a horror film screenwriter, and his leading lady and girlfriend, Reva Gogo (Melody Butiu), plan their next film in Presenting...the Monstress!, a one-act play by Sean San Jose adapted from Monstress, Lysley Tenorio's collection of short stories. Monstress is performing at A.C.T.'s Strand Theater through November 22, 2015. Photo by Kevin Berne.

Checkers Rosario (Sean San Jose) and his leading lady and girlfriend, Reva Gogo (Melody Butiu) in Presenting…Monstress. Photo by Kevin Berne.

San Francisco’s A.C.T. (American Conservatory Theater) has inaugurated its new Strand Theater on Market Street with a pair of one-act plays based on the short stories of Bay Area author Lysley Tenorio. The first play, Remember the I-Hotel, begins in 1977 during the historically infamous evictions of long-time elderly residents from Manilatown’s I-Hotel. In a flashback to the 1930s the play reveals the backstory of two of these long-time residents, Vincente (played with believable magnetism by Philip Estrera) and Fortunado (played by the versatile Jomar Tagatac). The flashback introduces the pair as recent immigrants from the Philippines who meet for the first time in a San Francisco dance hall. Vicente and ‘Nado bond quickly and become the closest of companions at work, out on the town, and at home at the I-Hotel. They are inseparable until Vincente falls for the fresh from Wisconsin 18-year -old aspiring journalist Althea (Danielle Frimer), and embarks on an illegal interracial relationship with disastrous consequences.

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THOUGHTS: Othello The Moor of Venice

Debrah Ann Byrd as Othello Photo Credit: © Hubert Williams 2015

Debra Ann Byrd as Othello Photo Credit: © Hubert Williams 2015

Audacity [ôˈdasədē] NOUN: the willingness to take bold risks. Take Wings and Soar (TWAS) and New Heritage Theatre Group (NHTG) has audacity! These two theatre groups collaborated to produce an all women version of William Shakespeare’s Othello. The play was first performed in 1604 in England with the title, “The Moor of Venice.” This time the basement of the St. James church at 141st street and St. Nicholas Avenue (The Dorothy Maynor Theatre) is 17th century Venice and Cyprus. TWAS and NHTG’S 2015 version, most of the time, hits the mark that any successful production might hope for. In addition, #DiversityOnStage is apparent in this production, which is what we love to see here on Arts In Color!

 

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THROWBACK THURSDAY: Flower Drum Song

Flower-Drum-Song-Playbill-02-59

Playbill used by permission. All rights reserved, Playbill Inc.

Today for Throwback Thursday, Arts in Color looks back at the 1958 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Flower Drum Song.  In reviews of the original 1958  production, Flower Drum Song was fairly criticized for perpetuating inaccurate stereotypes. Indeed, even the central conceit of the play, the picture bride, was wildly anachronistic for the 1950s. However, the production was also arguably groundbreaking for late 1950s Broadway. It was based on source material by a writer of Chinese origin (C.Y. Lee), it focused on a story-line about Asian American characters with no mediating white point-of-view character, and it featured actors of color in all except one principal role (that of nightclub owner and rival love interest Sammy Fong, played in yellow-face by Larry Blyden). Continue reading

THOUGHTS: Barbecue at The Public Theater

Playbill for Barbecue at The Public TheaterThis weekend I made my way downtown to check out the new play at The Public Theater that everyone is buzzing about, Barbecue by Robert O’ Hara. I am happy to give this unique evening of theatre the Arts in Color seal of approval.

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