Jocelyn Bioh (School Girls; or, The African Mean Girls Play) and director Saheem Ali her frequent collaborator (Merry Wives of Windsor-free Shakespeare in the Park) once again work comedic magic in Nollywood Dreams, a farce that twits burgeoning Nigerian Cinema in the 1990s, yet makes a statement about dreaming, and dreamers influenced by countries with jaded, hypocritical values.
The production makes the most of the Newman Mills Theater’s intimacy with heightened, particular and detailed scenic design by Arnulfo Maldonado that cleverly enhances Bioh’s characters, set changes, story arc and thematic focus. Dede Ayite’s appealing and over-the top costume design and Nikiya Mathis’ hair and wig design encourage the actors to pull out all the stops. These production elements especially enhance the actors’ characterizations and encourage their freedom to humorously tear up Bioh’s witty celebrity inferences with grace and humor that moves the production along at a well-paced clip.
If Bioh’s characterizations are superb, even greater is the cast that inhabits the recognizable celebrity types and their acolytes with definition, depth and unique authenticity. The humor is organic and situational, and part of the laugh riot comes at witnessing how other countries, i.e. Nigeria, emulate some of the worst of American, to wit “Hollywood” culture through a lens brightly. Thus, Bioh’s farce not only humorously underscores and gently ridicules Nollywood cinema, but it also satirically rocks the most shallow and nauseating American entertainment transferences, save the send up of Oprah in the TV hostess Adenikeh by the fabulous Abena. Interestingly, Nollywood cinema has grown by leaps and bounds to be one of the most productive engines globally.
The plot is as simplistic as the Hollywood pie that actors refuse to eat for fear of going over their 18 BMI. Ayamma Okafor (the lovely Sandra Okuboyejo) dreams of being an actress as she and her older sister Dede (the jealous, know-it-all humorously portrayed by Nana Mensah) run their parents’ travel agency and intend to move up in the world beyond their middle class status, of course, influenced by the US and other capitalist countries. The siblings are well drawn with the older Dede continually chiding Ayamma, dumping the work on her and generally being a scutch. Then events break for the sweet but down-to-earth Ayamma and she becomes Dede’s rival for the man in both of their dreams (for different reasons) the gorgeous star Wale (the sweet and adorable Ade Otukoya).
In all the gossip magazines that Dede reads, confirmed by the guests on Adenikeh’s TV show, we learn the backstory and the stakes for the characters. The gobsmacking Wale is slated to be in the next film from director and all-around big producer who learned the ropes in America, Gbenga Ezie (Charlie Hudson, III has the energetic, compromised Hollywood director/schmoozer down perfectly). However, to spur interest, cleverly, the big man announces a nationwide open audition for the part of the female lead in his next film, “The Comfort Zone” (how Bioh introduces the title and the name of the lead character is hysterical). For Ayamma, this is the opportunity she has dreamed about, to be able to raise herself up into stardom as an actress. Meanwhile, Dede will just settle as second best to marry Wale.
Bioh ratchets up the sibling rivalry when Ayamma asserts herself and visits Gbenga’s offices to get the part and play against Wale to prove she is a great actress and can make something of herself. In Gbenga’s office, we see the allure of possible future starlet vs. potentially predatory director. Enjoying the visit of the beauty Ayamma, an ingenue of innocence, we note that Gbenga never misses an opportunity with the ladies. Gbenga allows her to read with the actress (and his former partner) Fayola (the Nollywood “Hallie Berry with the Tina Turner legs”) who he will most likely cast in the part to prevent her spilling the dirt on him that would put him in jail.
Emana Rachelle portrays the wild and dramatic Fayola with vibrance, humor and sheer joy. Ayite and Mathis’ costumes, shoes, wigs give even more umph and fabulousness to Emana’s Fayola whose gestures and movements, like Abena’s, celebrate those they imitate if not also gently ridicule. The women are in conflict against each other for the part of Comfort; the sisters are in conflict for Wale, and Adenikeh wants in and will use her leverage in whatever way possible to be with Wale and Gbenga. Interestingly, Hudson III’s king manipulator Gbenga keeps them all allured, while Ade’s Wale, with quiet confidence oozing the sensitivity which every woman loves, sits back and is himself.
The actors are having a blast as is the audience. And we even get to see a clip of The Comfort Zone which is an overacting extravaganza at its best. Special kudos to David Weiner’s and Jiyoun Chang’s lighting design; Palmer Hefferan’s sound design; Alex Basco Koch’s projection design. It’s a shame that the run of Nollywood Dreams isn’t longer. It’s a wonderful romp with depth in exposing the the broken promises and lures the entertainment industry presents and not to its credit. Thanks to the creative team, Saheem Ali-director, Bioh and especially the ensemble who are seminal performers who listen to each other. All make this production memorable.
To see Nollywood Dreams, you must act fast. It is over November 28th. For tickets and times go to the MCC website and CLICK HERE.