Jocelyn Bioh Bridges Gap Between Cultures with Humor
by Patricia L. Morin
As one Nigerian sister exclaims, “When it hits, it hits,” and SF Playhouse’s “Nollywood Dreams” has struck gold.
In Jocelyn Bioh’s satirical comedy, set in the 1990s Nigerian movie industry, we experience the early stages of Hollywood film-making.
Director Margo Hall takes us under the skin of a soap-opera, making fun of the overused Cinderella plot as it drifts from scene to scene with expected outcomes, from realistic to fantastic. Hall’s winning formula brings laugh-out-loud humor, dynamite acting, and the reminder of the perseverance needed to achieve a dream. We can see ourselves in these Nigerians, as they struggle to star in their own lives.
Scenic Designer Bill English’s ingenious carousel set turns to reveal a run-down travel agency, a snazzy film director’s office, and a wildly colored ’90s TV talk show.
The loud and showy talk show features an effusive, super-Oprah host called Adenikeh (hilarious Tanika Baptiste). Wearing fabulous gowns and incredible headdresses, Adenikeh stirs up the rumor mill, trying to pierce Nigerian stars’ public facades. She’s crass, she’s rude, she’s all show biz.
Costume Designer Jasmine Milan Williams’ fabulous 90s costumes mirror both drab and glitz with magnificent shapes and colors.
Bioh’s women express tremendous self-assurance, showing that African women, all women, can meet artistic and professional challenges. They can be self-possessed, goal directed, willing to fight for what they want.
Ayamma Okafor (versatile Angel Adedokun) epitomizes persistence and sweetness, working alongside her in-your-face, lazy sister Dede (outstanding Brittany Nicole Sims) in their parents’ Lagos travel agency. Dede stumbles upon auditions for a starring role in a film ironically titled “The Comfort Zone,” directed by US-influenced director Gbenga (cool Tre’Vonne Bell). Ayamma exclaims, “God has intended this for me.”
Playwright Bioh masterfully presents the opposing sisters—one bold and one shy—bridging the cultural gap between Nollywood and Hollywood. I found myself transported to Nigeria, as it mirrors U.S. obsessions.
As the sisters bicker, Ayamma confronts her sister’s overconfidence and Dede replies, “I’m a child of God. I know Everything.” As Dede, Sims dishes out high-class sarcasm. Their early Nollywood world slavishly imitates the Hollywood stereotypes flooding the Lagos scene.
While Dede represents the doubters, she outrageously gushes over sexy, soft-spoken Wale Owusu (suave Jordan Covington), Nigeria’s “Sexiest Man Born.” Covington delights us with his overdone swagger. He’s both seductive and sincere when he meets Ayamma at the “The Comfort Zone” auditions.
Those auditions, run by young director Gbenga bring Hollywood practices to Nigeria—but Gbenga has a secret past in America. He’s caught in a bind—humorously reflected in the plot of his soap opera-based movie.
We realize his movie reflects his own past when we meet sassy and struggling Fayola (captivating Anna Marie Sharpe), dubbed “the Nigerian Halle Berry with Tina Turner Legs.” Sharpe showcases the sleazy exploitation of women in Hollywood and Nollywood.
How will this old fairy tale, wrapped in continual satire, end?
Join the fun, have a few uproarious laughs, and wonder about the real impact of the Holly/Bolly/Nollywood dreams.
“Nollywood Dreams” by Jocelyn Bioh, directed by Margo Hall, scenic design by Bill English, costume design by Jasmine Milan Willliams, lighting design by Kevin Myrick, sound design by Ray Archie, projections by Sarah Phykitt, at San Francisco Playhouse. Info: sfplayhouse.org – to November 4, 2023.
Cast: Angel Adedokun, Tanika Baptiste, Tre’Vonne Bell, Jordan Covington, and Brittany Nicole Sims.
Banner photo: Dede (Brittany Nicole Sims) doubts the acting abilities of her sister Ayamma (Angel Adedokun). Photos: Jessica Palopoli