Commemorating African World Heritage Day

Today, on African World Heritage Day, we’re here to commemorate the rich cultural legacy with a curated collection of playwrights and their works. Explore the vibrant narratives and diverse perspectives, celebrating the enduring impact of these captivating stories!

Nollywood Dreams by Jocelyn Bioh

Photo by Margot Schulman, 2022 Round House Theatre Production

It’s the nineties and in Lagos, Nigeria, the “Nollywood” film industry is exploding. Ayamma dreams of leaving her job at her parents’ travel agency and becoming a star. When she auditions for a new film by Nigeria’s hottest director, tension flares with his former leading lady—as sparks fly with Nollywood’s biggest heartthrob.

Merry Wives by Jocelyn Bioh

Photo by Joan Marcus, 2021 Broadway Production

Set in South Harlem, amidst a vibrant and eclectic community of West African immigrants, Merry Wives is a New York story about tricks of the heart. A raucous spinoff featuring the Bard’s most beloved comic characters, this hilarious farce tells the story of the trickster Falstaff and the wily wives who outwit him in a celebration of Black joy, laughter, and vitality.

Included in Broadway Book Club’s Black Voices Specialty Collection.

School Girls; or, The African Mean Girls Play by Jocelyn Bioh

Photo by Joan Marcus, 2017 Off-Broadway Production

Paulina, the reigning queen bee at Ghana’s most exclusive boarding school, has her sights set on the Miss Global Universe pageant. But the arrival of Ericka, a new student with undeniable talent and beauty, captures the attention of the pageant recruiter—and Paulina’s hive-minded friends. This buoyant and biting comedy explores the universal similarities (and glaring differences) facing teenage girls across the globe.

Coming Home by Athol Fugard

Photo by T. Charles Erickson, 2009 Long Wharf Theatre Production

Years ago, Veronica Jonkers departed for the big city in the brave New South Africa, set on making her dreams of fame and fortune come true. In Coming Home, Veronica returns to Nieu Bethesda several years later to die of AIDS, but she is determined to first secure a future for her child, bright word-loving little Mannetjie. After a rocky beginning, Veronica’s childhood playmate and school friend Alfred agrees to marry Veronica and take care of Mannetjie, but Mannetjie resents Alfred’s intrusion into the close relationship he has with his mother. The ghost of old Buks Jonkers, Veronica’s beloved grandfather, appears to Veronica and to Mannetjie, teaching them how to appreciate the miracle of life, how it is part of God’s Plan and that one has to take the good with the bad and learn to survive. With his elders’ guidance, Mannetjie will, in turn, learn that the harsh realities of life can be softened by hope and redemption.

Ruined by Lynn Nottage

Winner of the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Drama

Photo by Kevin Berne, 2010 La Jolla Playhouse and Berkeley Repertory Theatre Co-Production

From Lynn Nottage, the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of such plays as Fabulation or, The Re-Education of Undine and Intimate Apparel, comes this haunting, probing work about the resilience of the human spirit during times of war. Set in a small mining town in Democratic Republic of Congo, this powerful play follows Mama Nadi, a shrewd businesswoman in a land torn apart by civil war. But is she protecting or profiting by the women she shelters? How far will she go to survive? Can a price be placed on a human life?

Sojourners by Mfoniso Udofia

Photo by Chasi Annexy, 2016 Off-Broadway Production

Sojourners is Part One of the Ufot Cycle, Udofia’s sweeping, nine-part saga which chronicles the triumphs and losses of Abasiama Ufot, a Nigerian immigrant, and her family. Abasiama came to America with high hopes for her arranged marriage and her future, intent on earning a degree and returning to Nigeria. But when her husband is seduced by America, she must choose between the Nigerian or American Dream.

The Strong Breed by Wole Soyinka

As outlined by Michael Smith: “The play refers to a folk tradition by which one person becomes the ‘carrier’ of community evil and symbolically purifies the village in an annual ritual. The hero is Eman, a stranger who has come to this particular village to act as teacher and share his education. ‘Those who have much to give,’ he says, ‘must do so in total loneliness.’ On the night of the purification ceremony he learns that Ifada, a helpless idiot boy whom he has befriended, has been selected as ‘carrier’ and victim; and he is driven by compassion to take Ifada’s part in the ritual. The crisis brings back memories. We learn that Eman’s father was a ‘carrier’ and that Eman has fled the family tradition of symbolic sacrifice. We also learn of Omae, the young Eman’s betrothed, whom he left for many years to pursue his personal destiny and who died soon after his return. Now Eman accepts his past and discovers, ‘I am very much my father’s son’—one of ‘the strong breed’ who must take these responsibilities upon themselves—and at the end of the play is caught in a trap at the sacred trees and killed.”

Victory by Athol Fugard

Set in the New South Africa (after the first free election in 1994), this play features two adolescents, Vicky and Freddie, from Pienaarsig, the township in Nieu Bethesda that separates the coloreds from the whites. When she was alive, Vicky’s mother worked as a maid for Lionel and his wife. Now, Vicky and Freddie have come to rob Lionel’s house. Lionel discovers them, and this leads to a night of dialogue in which Vicky and Freddie reveal the hardships of their lives in poverty, with neither education nor jobs. Freddie is aiming for a life of crime in Cape Town, where he plans to join a gang and sell drugs, bringing Vicky with him. His hatred for Lionel stems from his own powerlessness and the mistaken belief that Lionel sexually abused Vicky. Feeling betrayed, Lionel appeals to Vicky hoping to redeem himself and to offer her more help. He is shot by accident, however, and Freddie flees the scene while Vicky sings a gospel hymn and calls out for her mommie. A play of both hope and hopelessness, Victory reflects the violence and despair of many of the young in South Africa who have little prospect of a constructive future.

Eclipsed by Danai Gurira

Their lives set on a nightmarish detour by civil war, the captive wives of a Liberian rebel officer form a hardscrabble sisterhood. With the arrival of a new girl who can read—and the return of an old one who can kill—their possibilities are quickly transformed. Drawing on reserves of wit and compassion, these defiant survivors ask: When the fog of battle lifts, could a different destiny emerge? Eclipsed offers a chilling, humanizing and surprisingly funny portrait of transformation and renewal. With wit, compassion, and defiance, this gripping play unearths the wreckage of war and celebrates the women who navigate and survive the most hostile of circumstances.

The Trials of Brother Jero by Wole Soyinka

As Michael Smith describes: “Brother Jero is a self-styled ‘prophet,’ an evangelical con man who ministers to the gullible and struts with self-importance over their dependence on him. The play follows him through a typical day: He acts as kind of tourist guide, displaying himself to the audience, explaining, demonstrating how he manages to live by his wits. He is pursued and cursed by his aged mentor, whose territory he has taken over. He is besieged by a woman creditor who turns out to be the tyrannical wife of his chief disciple. He converts a pompous, painfully timid Member of Parliament with prophecies of a ministerial post. And all day he tries to resist the endless temptation of beautiful women…the play is delightfully picturesque and entertaining.”

Her Portmanteau by Mfoniso Udofia

Her Portmanteau is an installment in the Ufot Cycle, Udofia’s sweeping, nine-part saga which chronicles the triumphs and losses of Abasiama Ufot, a Nigerian immigrant, and her family. As Nigerian traditions clash with the realities of American life, Abasiama and her daughters must confront complex familial legacies that span time, geography, language and culture.

The Syringa Tree by Pamela Gien

The Syringa Tree is a personal, deeply evocative story of an abiding love between two families—one black, one white—and the two children that are born into their shared household in early 1960s South Africa. With both humor and palpable fear, six-year-old Elizabeth Grace tries to make sense of the chaos, magic and darkness of Africa. At first seen through the eyes of a child, the story of these families’ destinies spans four generations, from early apartheid to the present-day free South Africa. As originally conceived and performed, one actress plays all twenty-four characters. The play may also be performed by a company of actors, playing several roles or not as desired.

Mud, River, Stone by Lynn Nottage

An African-American couple vacationing in Africa takes a turn off the main highway and find themselves stranded during rainy season in the remnants of a grand hotel. The rundown colonial hotel’s only inhabitants are a reticent bellhop and an outspoken white African businessman. As the rains continue, the guest list grows to include a Nigerian aid worker at wits’ end and a Belgian adventurer wandering the landscape in search of meaning. The couple’s comic and romantic adventure takes on absurd dimensions when the hotel guests are taken hostage by the angry bellhop. His demands are simple: He wants grain for his village and a wool blanket for his mother. The stakes increase when an international mediator arrives and tries to end the stand-off. The couple’s relationship is tested by the volatile politics of Africa, and they learn what the hungry human spirit will do for food and a warm blanket.

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