By Michele Markarian
Hear Word! Naija Woman Talk True –Written by Ifeoma Fafunwa, Tunde Aladese, Mojisola Abijola, Wole Oguntokun, Princess Olufemi-Kayode, Ijeoma Ogwuegbu. Directed by Ifeoma Fufunwa. Presented by American Repertory Theater, 64 Brattle Street, Cambridge through February 11.
After seeing “Hear Word”, I spent the day texting friends, urging them to get tickets to this powerful, life-affirming show. Here’s my text to you –
“Hear Word” is a collection of vignettes written from interviews with Nigerian women and performed by a talented cast of ten women. Grounded in truth and accompanied by three talented drummers (Blessing Idireri, a.k.a. Kacomari, Emeka Anokwuru a.k.a. Make Beat, and Ebisidor Asiyai) the stories are funny and tragic, sometimes both at the same time. Living in a society where men hold all the cards, the women have to constantly fight to protect their bodies, their dignity and their right to be who they are. If that weren’t enough, relationships with their own sex, including mothers and mothers-in-laws, tend to be judgmental and without compassion. Which is why the piece is so powerful – it is compassionate, and compassion, when in short supply, doesn’t come easy.
In “George”, a student (Zara Udofia-Ejoh) befriends what she thinks is a nice young man at university. They have a platonic friendship that she thinks they both understand, until one night the normally pleasant and mild-mannered George rapes her in the bushes. When a light is shined on them by security, he runs away. Udofia-Ejoh gets right into the heart of the student’s pain and takes us there with her. When she cries that she wishes that she had the kind of mother who could not only comfort her, but would want to kill George, it’s heartbreaking.“Dodo (Fried Plaintains)” is what happens to a young girl (Odenike) when her auntie’s new fiancée arrives at the house early to pick her up, and has to wait, as her auntie isn’t home. Despite the fact that the girl is barely out of adolescence, the fiancée assaults her in the family bathroom. Odenike wonderfully conveys the young girl’s naiveté, confusion and terror. A wife and mother (the excellent Bimbo Akintola) is forced, by her husband, to sleep with her husband’s fat, smelly, dirty friend, Papa Adele, as part of the family’s hospitality. She’s disgusted, but she does it. It’s her duty.
It’s the clash of two worlds – the old one and the modern, feminist one – that provide some of the laughs in the play. “Azuka and Temilola” are two daughters, who are constantly being dressed down by their mothers (the droll Joke Silva and Elvina Ibru). The mothers warn the daughters as teens not to dress provocatively, but as the daughters grow into their 40s and still don’t have men, the mothers panic. A mother-in-law (a very funny Omonor) complains that her daughter-in-law is a terrible wife – the girl won’t cook, wants to work, and is lazy with the housework. She won’t rest until she makes the girl submissive. “Aseowo (Prostitute)” has a group of women commenting on the dress and mannerisms of other women, throwing them the biggest insult they can – Aseowo. But the magnificent Ufuoma McDermott as a Christian preacher in “Songs of Praise” insists that the orgasm comes from God, as that is the name married women scream when they climax.
Ituen Basi’s spectacular costumes are colorful and appropriate for each character. Jonathan Carr’s Projection Design is imaginative and adaptable. All of the actresses are versatile and strong, and use the large stage well, commanding great presence and communicating great emotion. “I want to cry”, said my friend, and I understood the feeling – I wanted to cry, too. There’s something in the material and performances that offer release, a depth of feeling that most of us have shut off, desensitized from media overload. “A Community Fails”, the final piece of the show, says it all. These women, and what they have to communicate, are not to be missed. Friend, go see this show. For more info, go to: https://americanrepertorytheater.org/