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Sojourners

Though jagged in structure, this romantic drama about Nigerian college students in Houston in 1978, is quite moving due to its wonderful performances.

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Chinasa Ogbuagu and Hubert Point-Du Jour in a scene from “Sojourners” (Photo credit: Chasi Annexy)

Chinasa Ogbuagu and Hubert Point-Du Jour in a scene from “Sojourners” (Photo credit: Chasi Annexy)

Darryl Reilly

Darryl Reilly, Critic

Though jagged in structure, Sojourners by Mfoniso Udofia is a quite moving romantic drama due to its wonderful performances and fine writing.  It recalls the heightened poetic styles of Tennessee Williams, particularly The Rose Tattoo and the plays of Lanford Wilson.

Set in Houston, Texas, in 1978, it tells the story of a couple in their mid-20’s attending college who were wed through an arranged marriage in Nigeria.  The very pregnant Abasiama is pragmatic, studious and works at a gas station convenience store.  Ukpong is a charming ne’er-do-well mainly interested in listening to pop records, drinking beer and enjoying living in the U.S. His defense is “My life has never been my own.”

Remember? “Finefine?” Recall when I first came to your compound and you saw me. Under your breath you muttered, “finefine.” …My turn to have a woman to make me that strong kind of man! The very second after I heard, I celebrated in the halls of that hellish Texas Southern.

Hanging around the convenience store is Moxie, a fiery young prostitute who wants to change her life by getting a job there.  Also lurking through the play is Disciple, a mystical young Nigerian man, who after a chance meeting with Abasiama becomes obsessed with her.

Ms. Udofia’s dialogue is richly expressive and she renders the four characters with depth and detail.  The relationships between the characters are fully explored and their interactions where they voice their hopes and desires are often poignant.  This is most particularly felt in the growing camaraderie between Abasiama and Moxie.

Chinasa Ogbuagu and Lakisha Michelle May in a scene from “Sojourners” (Photo credit: Chasi Annexy) 

Chinasa Ogbuagu and Lakisha Michelle May in a scene from “Sojourners” (Photo credit: Chasi Annexy)

You need to focus and do what you gotta do so you ain’t standing out in the middle of a Texas gas station asking to get killed. This ain’t Africa girl. You gotta – This be the free jungle!! Better than the jungle jungle.

“The magical energy of the piece” is how Udofia describes her view of the play.  It is structured as a series of short scenes in varying locales that range from the couple’s house, the convenience store, a hospital, and Disciple’s apartment, making the action choppy.  The plotting is weakened by repetitive scenes that drag. There is also the cryptic distraction of having Disciple visually appearing well in advance of his actually becoming part of the narrative. Despite these flaws, the play by its conclusion is a compelling experience.

Abasiama is a shy foreign wife who through circumstances is transformed into a confident woman.  Chinasa Ogbuagu beautifully displays the character’s evolution with her excellent performance.

Lakisha Michelle May as Moxie hilariously embraces the stereotype of the loud and contentious streetwalker but gradually offers a touching and modulated portrait of aspiration against hardship.

Lakisha Michlle May, Chinasa Ogbuagu and Chinaza Uche in a scene from “Sojourners” (Photo credit: Chasi Annexy)

Lakisha Michelle May, Chinasa Ogbuagu and Chinaza Uche in a scene from “Sojourners” (Photo credit: Chasi Annexy)

As the roguish Ukpong, Hubert Point-Du Jour delightfully portrays this spoiled overgrown boy with his animated presence and lyrical voice. 

Chinaza Uche charismatically performs the difficult role of Disciple.  Mr. Uche admirably brings reality to this symbolic intruder with his sly and hyperbolic manner that never veers into becoming a cartoon. 

Director Ed Sylvanus Iskandar realizes the author’s worthy but rambling vision.  Mr. Iskandar has achieved intense performances from the cast and physically staged the numerous scenes adeptly and with connectivity.

Jason Sherwood’s accomplished set design is a rectangular revolving setup, wheeled by stagehands, that represent the different locations. It gets wheeled a lot because of the play’s format.  Each setting is authentically depicted with appropriate touches such as African furnishings and the faded signs at the Fiesta gas station’s convenience store.

The varying states of reality, places and moods are very effectively conveyed by Jiyoun Chang’s lighting design.  Loren Shaw’s costume design realistically visualizes the characters with flair, especially the two women.  Heard through out the play are a well-chosen selection of music popular at the time including Dolly Parton that are all evocatively configured by Jeremy S. Bloom’s expert sound design.

This production is presented by the company Playwrights Realm.  Their mission is “supporting early career playwrights along the journey of playwriting, helping them to hone their craft, fully realize their vision, and build meaningful artistic careers.” Sojourners strongly if imperfectly fulfills that goal. 

Sojourners (through February 13, 2016)

Playwrights Realm

Peter Jay Sharp Theater at Playwrights Horizons, 416 West 42nd Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 212-279-4200 or visit http://www.playwrightsrealm.org

Running time: two hours and 25 minutes including one intermission

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Darryl Reilly
About Darryl Reilly (656 Articles)
A native New Yorker, Darryl Reilly graduated from NYU with a BFA in Cinema Studies. For the Broadway League, (formerly The League of American Theatres and Producers) he developed, and for five years conducted their Broadway Open House Tours, which took visitors through The Theatre District and into several Broadway theaters. He contributed to Broadway Musicals Show by Show: Sixth Edition (Applause Books). Since 2013, he has reviewed theater, cabaret, and concerts for Theaterscene.net.

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