Sojourners: Theater review by David Cote
The opening of Mfoniso Udofia’s Sojourners grabs your attention with a curious juxtaposition. Heavily pregnant Nigerian student Abasiama (Chinasa Ogbuagu) stands in a cramped Houston apartment circa 1978. Her prominent belly is wrapped in a colorful cloth (called an iro), and she leans against a wall in pain; the baby kicks a lot. From a tinny radio comes Dolly Parton’s jangly country-pop hit “Here You Come Again.” The mix of sound and image turns out to be fitting. Abasiama’s wandering, America-loving husband Ukpong (Hubert Point-Du Jour) is soon to return and, as the song goes, “wrap my heart ’round your little finger.” At such moments, the culture clash in Sojourners is rich and resonant, but they are too few in this stiff-moving and overwritten debut.
A first-generation Nigerian-American playwright, Udofia is clearly inspired by personal history, not to mention August Wilson: Sojourners is the first in a projected nine-play cycle about Nigerian family members in Africa and America. That’s a big project, and she’s bound to learn crucial lessons about pacing, exposition and subtext, all off which unfold awkwardly or go missing in the present draft, despite a spirited ensemble under boldfaced direction from Ed Sylvanus Iskander. Lakisha Michelle May’s desperate prostitute Moxie drifts into the stern but compassionate Abasiama’s orbit, as does eccentric, devout fellow Nigerian student Disciple (Chinaza Uche).
At two and a half blocky, discursive hours, the play is too novelistic and interior to succeed as a dynamic drama. The characters are on compelling journeys; they just need a clearer road map.—David Cote
Peter Jay Sharp Theater (Off Broadway). By Mfoniso Udofia. Directed by Ed Sylvanus Iskandar. With Hubert Point-Du Jour, Lakisha Michelle May, Chinasa Ogbuagu, Chinaza Uche. Running time: 2hrs 30mins. One intermission.
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