BWW Review: HEAR WORD! NAIJA WOMAN TALK TRUE at The Public's Under The Radar Festival
One of the great opportunities afforded to playgoers at The Public Theater's annual Under The Radar Festival is the chance to see how artists from other countries address the same issues being tackled by their American counterparts.
This reviewer was very pleased to attend the last festival performance of Nigerian director/author Ifeoma Fafunwa's HEAR WORD! NAIJA WOMAN TALK TRUE, presented by iOpenEye, a company committed to driving social change through performance art.
Played by a company of ten women whose ages span decades (Taiwo Ajai-Lycett, Joke Silva, Elvina Ibru, Omonor, Ufuoma McDermott, Zara Udofia-Ejoh, Rita Edward, Debbie Ohiri, Odenike and Oluchi Odii) and whose words are supported by percussionists Emeka Anokwuru and Blessing Idireri, HEAR WORD! is a beautiful collage of monologues, movement and discussion encouraging Nigerian women to fight back against the cultural and legal discrimination they encounter every day.
Ensemble members playing young girls who can barely understand what they're being subjected to talk of being catcalled and groped by strangers. Women a bit older tell of enduring sexual harassment in the workplace because they need their jobs. (Material specifying which actors played which roles was not available.)
Individual stories include that of a widow who discovers after her husband died that he had another wife and family elsewhere, and that she's not legally entitled to any of their joint possessions. Another woman finds that her husband regards her as not only his personal sex slave, but as someone who should be willing to service another man to help curry favor. An adolescent bride is considered worthless by her husband after a difficult delivery of a stillborn child.
Women who encourage such patriarchal customs by looking down on others of their sex are also pointed out, as are the men who try and uplift and support them; particularly those who recognize a woman's potential for feeling sexual pleasure.
As the 90-minute production smoothly blends from vignette to vignette, the attitude also shifts from one of enduring oppression to one of celebrating the fight to defeat it. Dance solos become joyful displays of indominable spirits.
There is no subtly about HEAR WORD!, which ends with the ensemble declaring their rights as a united sisterhood. It's more of theatrical pageant presented directly to the audience, full of passion, empathy and the bond that grows from a shared history.