Monthly Archives: October 2014

“generations” At the SOHO Rep: South Africa comes downtown

The Soho Rep downtown is a place where for decades one can expect to witness many new plays, difficult works, challenging language and ideas of brutality and beauty, but never in all these years as anything like the glorious “generations” graced the entirety of the Walker Street space.

I knew nothing about this production when a wise journalist pal visiting from Jakarta tipped me to it; such is the miracle of modern global existence. From the moment the audience enters the theater, now filled with the evocative, bright orange sand of southern Africa to the tin walls painted the brightest colors available, one is in South Africa. The theater is set up with a random selection of chairs and stools all scattered willy-nilly around a cook stove and a kitchen table. The onions are simmering and the air is redolent with spices.

A troika of tall men in summer shirts was installed behind where we sat and made glib conversation with the audience as if they too were just there for the show. I think we all knew better. But nothing could prepare my soul and spirit for what happened when the first foot falls thudded to the ground and the conga blared and voices boomed in chants and clicks and undulations transforming the small space into a sacred shrine.

The miracle of a play, written by debbie tucker green (yes, all lower case, like the title) is in fact a circular tone poem. It is the same language repeated in different cadences, by different cast members, overlapping words and people on top of each other. “I was the cooker — you was the cookless — I was the cooker who coached the cookless.” It is in the same rhythm as Gertrude Steins, “A rose is a rose is a rose.” With many more iterations, prose and voices.

It is told at first by the entire three generation ensemble: grandparents who are so evocative and moving, Thuli Dumakude and Jonathan Peck; parents, Ntombikhona Diamini and Michael Rogers; and young soon-to-be lovers: the girlfriend so fierce and independent Shyko Amos, and the sweetie who woes her, the irrepressible Mamoudou Athie.

There is a junior sister, sweet and troublemaking Khail Toi Bryant and of course, the kick-ass choir featuring 13 members each better voiced and more winsome than the next. The choir makes the room vibrate and locks the piece together like musical super glue. The composition, arrangement and music direction is by Bongi Duma whose current credits, of course are musical director for “The Lion King.” But, here you get the same transportive music in what might be your back yard and it is so gob smacking.

The immersive set is by Arnulfo Maldonado and is brought to life by the genius of the duo behind Scenic Factory, George Hoffman and Greg Kozatek, who is really a sorcerer for sourcing props and set décor. Of course, none of this could make a 45-minute piece coalesce without director Leah Gardiner who understands how to move bodies and emotions and whose work is often seen at SOHO Rep.

“generations” runs through Nov. 9 at SOHO Rep Theater, 46 Walker Street, in New York. For information or tickets, call 212-352-3101 or visit sohorep.org or playco.org

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just shea: harvesting a new reality

*published on september 29, 2014 in ABC Home

by Julia Sweeney

Despite possessing a resume that includes experience as an editor, experimental theater producer, and Wall Street stockbroker, Wicki Boyle felt inspired to begin a new career in her late 50s — in Africa, no less. What would be seen as a daunting challenge for many is an exciting opportunity for Boyle, a woman who relishes in adventures in the unknown (her time spent writing for National Geographic is quite literally an example of this).

Boyle is the co-founder of Just Shea, a social business focused on empowering women shea collectors and harvesters in Northern Ghana through the sale of shea-based cosmetics. Just Shea products – lusciously soft salves for feet, hands, face, and lips created from Ghanaian shea butter – are now available both online and in-store in ABC Home. After discussing her life, career, and Just Shea recently, we part ways — but not before she proffers a genuine hug. An appropriate gesture, perhaps: Boyle’s ability to embrace the new with open arms is truly special.

Wickham-BoyleImage of Wicki Boyle, Ozier Muhammad / The New York Times

Boyle met Just Shea’s founder, Danielle Grace Warren, through The Op-Ed Project (a movement to increase the number of women thought leaders in key international commentary forums). They became friends – frankly, we can’t imagine not finding Boyle instantly companionable – and when Warren informed Boyle she was headed to Ghana, a deeper connection was forged.

Warren would eventually establish the One Village Planet-Women’s Development Initiative, a humanitarian organization focused on sustainable development projects for women in Haiti and Ghana (the profits of Just Shea are channeled to their shea-related activities in Ghana). Boyle, knowing very little about what Warren would actually end up doing, nevertheless felt compelled to get involved. She says, “I wrote her basically just saying, ‘I love Ghana. Can I help?’”

danielleDanielle Grace Warren, right

Eventually, Just Shea was born, a company that is capitalizing on a tremendously underutilized industry while enabling women entrepreneurs to establish true, viable businesses. In Africa, shea is known as “womenʼs gold”: Nut collection and processing are designated women’s work. More than 600,000 women collect shea nuts in Ghana, with the industry benefiting more than 2 million individuals (particularly because women tend to reinvest their profits back into their families and communities). Moreover, shea’s rising popularity – it’s seemingly laced in every single cream on the market today – makes it a sector for real growth. Yet over 25% of shea nuts harvested from Ghana’s trees are neither sold nor processed domestically; 60% of the available shea nuts go uncollected.

Just-Shea-1

This is largely due to the challenges the women shea nut collectors face, obstacles Warren witnessed firsthand. Boyle explains, “She was seeing that women collecting shea nuts – because it is a women’s job, men will not pick up anything off of the ground – are being bitten by poisonous snakes and scorpions. They don’t have any gear to protect their exposed hands, feet, or faces.” Moreover, as shea collecting often happens at night – so as to not interfere with their daytime responsibilities – they are forced to do so almost entirely in the dark, thus crippling efficiencies.

Based off of the concept of hands, feet, and faces (articulated in their products) Just Shea provides the simple tools these women need to be successful: Boots for the feet, gloves for their hands, and hats for their heads. Boyle remarks, “I like that our company very clearly tells you what we’re doing, but not in this longwinded way. You can literally see the connection.”

Just-Shea-2

Aside from this gathering gear, the profits for Just Shea help fund other critical logistical elements, such as solar-powered flashlights and silos to store the nuts, allowing collectors to aggregate the crop and sell it year-round (hitherto, many would abandon nuts that they were unable to store). Boyle and Warren have also launched an interest-free loan initiative, which enables women to take out money against a bag of collected shea nuts. This cash advance at the onset of the harvest season means they can hold onto their crop investments and sell during opportune market fluctuations.

While empowering women is rewarding for Boyle, creating a truly outstanding product is equally exciting. She comments, “We know that we have to make it twice as good as the next product, because people will not buy something just because it has a backstory — it has to be great.” Their shea butter formula, developed by a New York-based chemist, feels nothing like the heavy, often-sticky products we’ve encountered in the past. It glides on smooth and light, a refreshing — and new — articulation.

So, much like Boyle and the many women of entrepreneurs Just Shea, shea butter has taken on a new lease in life — one that feels very, very good. Shop Just Shea, below.

Just-Shea-_ just shea hand salve; $40 | just shea lip salve; $20 | just shea face salve; $55 | just shea foot salve; $40

 All images except top via Just Shea 

Scenes From a Marriage: a review

*published 30 Sept 2014 on The EDGE

The rotating cast of 'Scenes From a Marriage'

The rotating cast of ‘Scenes From a Marriage’  (Source:http://www.thewrap.com)

 

 

Ingmar Bergman made some deep, cutting and insightful movies. So whether you recall the movie,“Scenes From a Marriage” or not has no bearing on whether you are moved by this new, wild ride of a play conceived and directed by the marvelous Ivo Van Hove.

The movie portrayed one couple Johan and Marianne and we followed the vagaries and viciousness of their marriage. In the new imagining at The New York Theater Workshop on East Fourth Street there are three couples playing the original one. Yes it is complicated, but also infinitely intriguing, very much like relationships.

The small thrust theater has been divided into three distinct spaces, and the audience actually enters through a trio of doors depending on the color of your wristband. Once inside your theater, you begin to see the marriage of Johan and Marianne, either cast 1, 2 or 3. You may see them in any random order, I happened to see them 1, 2, 3 but a friend saw 3, I, 2.

This represents the couple at different stages of their lives and relationship. Happy and newly pregnant; a quarrelling and sexless marriage; and Johan leaving to marry a young student. My truncated telling condenses the facts into too tight a space because the fights, the unpeeling of the onion of the relationship are the crux of the play and of any long-term relationship. As an observer, the sadness and futility of the fights and clumsy attempts to rebuild love are heart breaking.

Although there are three different playing areas, they all share a central hub that serves as a cohesive backstage. This area has glass walls so from the get-go the audience observes the various couples exiting, gathering props or blowing off steam. All of this action is intended to be overheard in all three theaters, but to differing degrees. In fact, there is so much sound leakage that if most of the audience members didn’t inhabit New York City apartments, it might be very off putting.

However, the fretful conversation or sensuous groans so many native New Yorkers hear daily makes this layered sound juxtaposition an aural plus for those of us who delight in such confusion. Other audience members, overheard at the interval, were put off by hearing Leonard Cohen blaring twice from other rooms before actually experiencing it in the scene it was meant to illuminate.

The actors who played Johan and Marianne were as varied as the tumultuous roller coaster relationship they allow the audience voyeurs to watch. Alex Hurt and Susannah Flood were the first couple and the action and the interaction with another couple Peter, Erin Gann and Katrina played masterfully by Carmen Zilles, were by far the most compelling for this reviewer. The arch of their drama went from a perceived perfection of coupledom to ugly, angry fighting including an aborted pregnancy and the intendant despair of Marianne.

But in the next incarnation Johan 2, played by the excellent Dallas Roberts of late on “The Good Wife” and many other theatrical and televised works, and his Marianne (Roslyn Ruff) gave a great but sad portrayal of a marriage that had degraded further due to the constraints of children, work and the need to please everyone in their circle. Their intimacy had dwindled and died and so we are not surprised when the final troika of Johan and Marianne’s is preparing to divorce.

The third set of couples was the most problematic for me. Arliss Howard as the husband, throughout all the Sturm und Drang of packing and leaving, seemed never to embody the role. Rather he floated and stomped and never seemed present. His character was feckless and his wife seemed strong, yet enabling and it made for an uneasy partnering. It is difficult to parse whether one dislikes the actor or the act he is given, but in this case it might be both. In any event, the final couple parts and the curtain drops for intermission.

After a very welcome break, the entire work runs three hours plus, the audience returns and is reunited in the now open theater where the walls have all flown up and the seating is a zig-zag. They reunite on stage and proceed to repeat all their lines in a sort of cacophonic round. They then change partners quickly in reeling mode, each seamlessly moving to another husband or wife, sometimes in mid-sentence. This interaction illuminates both the similarity of every marital fight and the sameness and sharpness in our quotidian conversations. These wonderfully choreographed fights mark the high point of the play.

Finally, the couples drift off stage, clothing optional, with shoes, jeans and shirts dripping off the characters. The audience sits silently in the theater as the noisy copulating takes place in the wings. Everyone returns, redresses piece by piece and signs the divorce papers. Drama finished, correct?

Nope, it was time for a conversation with Marianne 3, Tina Benko and her mother Mia Katigbak, who had done well playing a client seeking a divorce in round two. Yes, these mother-daughter rapprochements are important, but I was exhausted from the therapeutic fighting, clanging symbols of unions gone wrong and sometimes, a play needs to end. After the mother daughter scene, with only one daughter doing the scene this time, Tina Benko and Arliss Howard reunite for yet another tryst.

Often when there is so much to take in, so many emotional highs and lows and a unique staging and casting concept, the producing team might opt for some simplification, the ‘less is more’ theory of stagecraft. The immersion and the privilege of watching wonderful acting, a great translation, by amazing Emily Mann, wonderful staging and ideas that are timeless were enough. “Scenes From A Marriage” is still an undertaking that will be seared into everyone who invests the time and emotion into watching it.

“Scenes From a Marriage” runs through Oct. 19 at New York Theatre Workshop, 79 East Fourth Street, New York. For tickets or information, call 212-780-9037 or visit www.nytw.org