By Brittany Crowell
Ayamma Okafor works with her sister Dede at a travel agency in Nigeria. The two girls manage their parent’s business while dreaming of a life that is bigger than planning vacations for others. When a local film studio is looking to hire an unknown actress for their next big film starring Nigeria’s sexiest bachelor, Ayamma believes that she is the perfect person for the role – and decides to go for it.
A show about following your dream and what you can accomplish as your most authentic self, Nollywood Dreams (running at MCC Theater through November 28) is a charming and heart-warming comedy for everyone. Playwright Jocelyn Bioh (author of Merry Wives at the Public this summer and School Girls; Or, the African Mean Girls Play) and director Saheem Ali take us on a simultaneously campy and genuine journey with these relatable and larger-than-life personalities.
Sandra Okuboyejo’s portrayal of the leading lady vying to become a leading lady is strong and heartfelt. She is joined by the comical Nana Mensah as her sister, Dede Okafor, who partners Okuboyeio’s strength perfectly with her own strong comic timing. Especially enjoyable to watch is Abena’s portrayal of TV talk-show host personality Adenikeh. Abena brings volumes to the comic subtleties of the role and brings many of the laughs in the piece, while also serving as a great narrative structure for our hero’s journey and introducing us to the many faces and histories associated with Nollywood Dreams Studios. These ladies are joined by Emana Rachelle as the hilariously over-the-top darling of Nollywood, Fayola Ogunleye; Charlie Hudson, III as the ambisious studio executive, Gbenga Ezie; and Ade Otukoya as handsome heart-throb, Wale Owusu.
Another star of this performance is the scenic design which shifts effortlessly between the travel agency, the set of Adenikeh’s talk show, and the Nollywood Dreams studios (and back again). Scenic designer Arnulfo Maldonado makes the small MCC theater space work for him with many rolling and swiveling parts transporting us quickly through space and time, assisted by lighting designers David Weiner and Jiyoun Chang. Dede Ayite also leans into the comedy and 90’s setting with a costume design that heightens both setting and performances in this over-the-top comedy.
Nollywood Dreams isn’t trying to do too much, but that is the beauty of the piece. It is enjoyable, aware, funny, and simple. It’s not going to leave you with larger philosophical questions, but it will leave you with a smile on your face… and don’t we need that a little more than anything else right now? If you’re looking for a savvy, simple, and short evening of laughs – definitely check it out before it closes next week.
NOLLYWOOD DREAMS – by Jocelyn Bioh; directed by Saheem Ali
Featuring – Nana Mensah (Dede Okafor); Sandra Okuboyejo (Ayamma Okafor); Abena (Adenikeh); Charlie Hudson III (Gbenga Ezie); Emana Rachelle (Fayola Ogunleye); Ade Otukoya (Wale Owusu)
Scenic design by Arnulfo Maldonado; costume design by Dede Ayite; lighting design by David Weiner and Jiyoun Chang; sound design by Pamer Hefferan; projection design by Alex Basco Koch; hair and wig design by Nikiya Mathis. Presented by MCC Theater: Robert lupone, Bernaard Telsey, and William Cantler, artistic directors; Blake West, executive director. Running at the Robert W. Wilson MCC Theater (511 West 52nd Street, New York, NY 10019) through November 28. 212-727-7722; https://mcctheater.org/tix/nollywood-dreams.