Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Also see Susan's review of Jersey Boys
As with School Girls; or, The African Mean Girls Play, Bioh's play produced at Round House in 2019, she sketches her characters with a light touch; if sometimes they behave badly, they are not bad people, and she treats them gently (with moments of affectionate, not unkind, satire).
The setting is Lagos in the early 1990s, where sisters Dede (Renea S. Brown) and Ayamma Okafor (Ernaisja Curry) run their parents' travel agency. They both love Nollywood films–specifically, sexy leading man Wale Owusu (Joel Ashur)–so when director Gbenga Ezie (Yao Dogbe) announces an open casting call for a new face to star opposite Owusu in his next movie, Ayamma is determined to seize her destiny. The other characters are Adenikeh (Jacqueline Youm), a Nigerian talk show host who wants to become the next Oprah, and Fayola Ogunleye (Yetunde Felix-Ukwu), a temperamental actress described as "a Nigerian Halle Berry with Tina Turner legs."
The six actors bring their characters to life as both individuals and as parts of a well-matched ensemble. The high points include moments when Brown's enthusiasm overwhelms her reserve, Curry's hilarious acting prep routine, and Dogbe's surface slickness.
The play runs about 100 minutes without intermission, eased by Caldwell's sleek and focused direction and seamless work by the design team. Jonathan Dahm Robertson's scenic design minimizes interruptions as the scenes flow among the travel agency, Adenikeh's studio, and Gbenga's bare-bones office. The glitz and sparkle come from Brandee Mathies' costumes, specifically the vivid African prints of Gbenga's suits and the volume of Adenikeh's billowing gowns, and Harold F. Burgess II's all-encompassing lighting design.
Nollywood Dreams runs through July 3, 2022, at Round House Theatre, 4545 East-West Highway, Bethesda MD. For tickets and information, please call 240-644-1100 or visit www.roundhousetheatre.org.
By Jocelyn Bioh