Emory Report

March 30, 1998

 Volume 50, No. 26

Theater Emory unveils Soyinka play, reading in April

Theater Emory celebrates its ongoing relationship with Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, the Robert W. Woodruff Professor of the Arts, by presenting his play, The Lion and the Jewel, April 2-11 in the Mary Gray Munroe Theater. Two staged readings of The Man Died: Prison Notes of Wole Soyinka will take place there on April 6.

The Lion and the Jewel was selected because the play, published in 1962 and first produced in 1966, is considered Soyinka's first great masterwork, said Vincent Murphy, Theater Emory artistic producing director. The play also incorporates Nigerian Yoruba traditions and offers the opportunity for students to work together with visiting professionals. "One of the central relationships in the play is between a student and teacher, so there are interesting reflections on what it means to be at a university," said Murphy. "It also follows up our staged reading two years ago of Soyinka's Nineteen Ninety-four that dealt with student/teacher issues."

The plot of The Lion and the Jewel revolves around Sidi, the village beauty, and her two suitors. One is the village chief, an old man with many wives; the other is an enthusiastically Westernized schoolteacher with visions of molding Sidi into a "civilized" woman. In the play Soyinka caricatures the wholesale embrace of Western modernization without the underlying values.

Andrea Frye directs the cast headed by Afemo Omilami (Baroka, the village chief), Ginnie Randall (Sadiku, Baroka's head wife), Savalas Colbert (Lakunle, the schoolteacher) and Adrienne Reynolds (Sidi). Composer and musician Klimchak performs his original musical score live on various ethnic and electronic percussion instruments and flutes, and Charles Bullock directs the choreography.

The staged readings of The Man Died: Prison Notes of Wole Soyinka will be Monday, April 6, in the Munroe Theater at 5 and 7:30 p.m. Soyinka kept journals during the 27 months he spent in solitary confinement following his arrest in 1967 during the Nigerian civil war. He wrote the entries on toilet tissue, cigarette packages and books with ink he made, and then smuggled them to the outside world. Reading under the direction of Murphy, who adapted the work from the journal, are: Omilami; Frye; Rudolph Byrd, director of African American studies; Johnnetta Cole, professor of anthropology/women's studies/ African American studies; and Cynthia Shaw, director of student development.

Soyinka's journal is considered by scholars to be a turning point in his writing. "Since this is one of Soyinka's definitive works, we felt it was crucial that people get to know that aspect of him," Murphy said. The adaptation follows the grand themes of the book-what it's like to live in that type of isolation and continue to fortify yourself, to strip yourself down in order to make yourself stronger, and to find hope in a despairing environment."

An exiled native of Nigeria, Soyinka is known for a singular style that blends traditional Yoruban folktales and European drama. Political activism has always informed his work, but Soyinka's plays, novels and poetry all touch on universal themes and reflect the philosophy that an artist's role is to record the experiences of his society.

Although Soyinka's plays are not often performed outside of Africa, his work receives high praise. Upon awarding him the 1986 Nobel Prize for literature, the Swedish Academy cited his plays Death and the King's Horseman and A Dance of the Forests as "evidence that Soyinka is one of the finest poetical playwrights that has written in English."

Soyinka remains active in efforts to free Nigeria from its military dictatorship. One vehicle is Radio Kudirat International, an opposition radio station broadcast throughout Nigeria that Soyinka co-founded. The April 3 performance of The Lion and the Jewel will benefit the operation of Radio Kudirat; tickets are $50 per person, and Soyinka will participate in a post-show reception and discussion with the audience. Donations for the station will be accepted at the readings of The Man Died, but there is no set admission price.

For more information about these events call 404-727-5050.

-Deb Hammacher

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