By Jamie Bullins
Lincoln Community Playhouse, Thursday, March 3, 2022, 7:30 pm
I’ve said this before, but the Playhouse has a significant dedication to the word (and what it really means), “Community.” If you’re going to put it in your name, you might want to acknowledge that, and they genuinely do.
Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters by John Steptoe is a Zimbabwe folktale, inspired by a 19th century publication of a series of stories of the Xhosa people from Southern Africa. It’s a take on the Cinderella story we are all familiar with and from the start, we know the tale and its lesson, but it doesn’t mean the journey isn’t a fun one.
There is music, dancing, joy, and a palpable energy. The cast is having fun telling the story, so it’s super easy to go along with them, and stick with them throughout. There’s a cast of 11, and 6 of them are new to the LCP stage. More than half the cast are new faces, again, community, which, at its core implies it’s always growing, open to new faces and voices.
The performance opens right away with a song and dance that includes a call and response chant, so we know we’re expected to pay attention and go with them through the story. Jackie Robinson had it right, “life is not a spectator sport”. You must participate, even if it’s just actively watching and listening to what you see and hear.
We’re led through the story by two narrators, Zoie Doxon (1st time at LCP) and Eva Nelson (who happens to be Caleb Nelson’s sister, Buddy the Elf in Elf, Jr., so keeping it in the family), and they keep us on task, leading us bit by bit through the story. They may let us in now and again on how they feel about certain moments, which adds a nice tongue in cheek feel to their role.
Mufaro (Marie Barrett) and his beautiful daughters, Nyasha (Jane Delfosse) and Manyara (Ambi Tchelcy Anuh-Ndumu, also new to LCP) are at the core of the story, hence the title of the play. We’re introduced to them right away and immediately we know who’s who and what’s what. Nyasha (“grace” or “mercy”) is the quiet, kind, caring sister. Jane has a grace that she brings to the role and carries it throughout. If animals like you in folktales, you seem to be ok. Manyara (“ashamed” or “you have been humbled”) is the proud, selfish, and lazy sister that seems to think that she deserves to be Queen, just because. Ambi is bold and has a strong energy and presence. She fills the stage in every scene she’s in. We can’t help but snicker at her fate at the end, even though we’re fully aware from the top that she’s going to get her comeuppance at some point. Marie fills the shoes of the traditional caring, wise, and respectful father well. He loves both his beautiful daughters, no matter their fate.
There are also two definite sparks in the ensemble that must be noted, Jaidah Modukpé Rochelle Boko and Eva Grasmick-Compaore, both 5th graders from Rousseau Elementary School, and both new to the Playhouse stage. These two are firecrackers and comment regularly (mostly to Manyara’s detriment) throughout the story with some great asides. Now, of course, these were provided most likely by the playwright and certainly encouraged by the director, Kaedyn Campbell, but the delivery is all theirs. Sharp, witty, and just downright adorable, they keep the audience (and Manyara) on their toes. I’m sure I’m not alone in hoping we see these two again at LCP in the future.
The remaining members of the ensemble that round out the cast helped fill out the story with their additional energy and a visible enjoyment in the telling. I could have watched another one of those slap fights between the villagers and not been sad.
The lighting, scenic elements, and staging were simple (not a bad thing), keeping us moving cleanly and quickly through the story. There was bright color, pattern, and texture throughout the aesthetic of the story, in the trees, huts, lights, and clothes. It all worked together. The choreography was well done and who doesn’t break out in a dance in the middle of the forest? There was great delight in it.
Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters tells a story we should certainly hear. Be nice and work hard. Seems pretty simple. Bring your whole family: you’ll enjoy the story and joyfulness with which it’s told.
In the program, in her bio, Jaidah shares this African proverb, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” How apropos. Thanks for having me Lincoln Community Playhouse, keep telling your stories.
If you go: You can catch Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters March 4-6, 11-13, Fridays/Saturdays at 7:30 pm, Sundays at 2:00 pm. Tickets may be purchased online.
Jamie Bullins is on the faculty in the Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film at UNL, since the fall of 2017. He is an Educator, Scenographer, Director, and Playwright and has been at it for almost 30 years now.
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