BWW Review: Ngozi Anyanwu's THE HOMECOMING QUEEN Considers The Boundaries of Self-Reinvention

Sentimental stories of adults returning to their childhood homes to face the demons of the past after achieving success far, far away are a staple of popular entertainment, and though Ngozi Anyanwu's engaging contribution to the genre, The Homecoming Queen, adds nothing surprising, the elegant storytelling, packaged in director Awoye Timpo's superb production, contributes to a very fine theatrical venture.

BWW Review:  Ngozi Anyanwu's THE HOMECOMING QUEEN Considers The Boundaries of Self-Reinvention
Oberon K.A. Adjepong and Mfoniso Udofia
(Photo: Ahron R. Foster)

Mfoniso Udofia does a terrific job as best-selling, Pulitzer-finalist novelist Kelechi, who carries herself with an erudite manner and socializes with the protective shield of someone accustomed to fending off those drawn to her notoriety.

Now living in Manhattan, her income has allowed her the opportunity to regularly send money to her Papa in Nigeria (excellent Oberon K.A. Adjepong, paternally critical and humorously gruff), allowing him to build an impressive home.

Having received word that Papa may not have long to live, she cautiously flies in to see him for the first time in 15 years. First, though, she encounters a group of local ladies (wonderful ensemble work by Ebbe Basey, Vine Burrows, Patrice Johnson and Zenzi Williams) who act as a commentating chorus; particularly when they join together to sing spirituals while going through the chores of the day.

One of them refers to Kelechi as their homecoming queen, for reasons that have nothing to do with high school football.

The lively, lightly confrontational exchanges between father and daughter are quietly observed by the young servant Beatrice (excellent Mirirai Sithole, speaking volumes through her deadpan silence), who Papa explains to be Kelechi's cousin.

The novelist is also reunited with childhood friend Obina (Segun Akande), a former servant of her father's who now has a career with World Bank. An interesting aspect of the play is how the characters use the accents of their new lives to separate themselves from their childhood homes.

BWW Review:  Ngozi Anyanwu's THE HOMECOMING QUEEN Considers The Boundaries of Self-Reinvention
Patrice Johnson, Vinie Burrows, Ebbe Bassey
and Zenzi Williams (Photo: Ahron R. Foster)

As is usually the case in such stories, events from the past start surfacing, giving the audience greater insight as to the relationships these characters once had and how they led to who they are today. A major theme how Kelechi uses her talent as a writer to rewrite her past and convince herself that the fiction is truth. Anyanwu makes a daring move to exemplify this idea.

With the audience seated on two sides of designer Yu-Hsuan Chen's long, narrow playing area, Timpo cleverly alternates the feel of the play between the welcoming coziness of the scenes featuring the charming ensemble of women and the claustrophobic restrictiveness felt by Kelechi.

New York has traditionally held a reputation as a place where people from all over the world can come and reinvent themselves. The Homecoming Queen skillfully asks us to consider the boundaries of our reinventions.

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