Pangea takes on an African classic

4 May 2001 at 9:00 am (Press, Shows, Theatre) (, , , , , )

Pangea takes on an African classic
by Rohan Preston (Star Tribune)

Chinua Achebe is a titan of African literature who lives a quiet life in upstate New York.

Pangea World Theater is a small, ambitious Minneapolis company interested in humanitarian issues. Somehow, the two connected; Pangea will produce the world premiere of the stage adaptation of “No Longer at Ease,” Achebe’s landmark 1960 novel about the conflict between tradition and modernity.

For Pangea, which has staged such heavyweights as “Ajax,” “Rashomon” and Athol Fugard’s “Playland,” this is another opportunity to tackle a world classic.

“No Longer at Ease” is a milestone in the history of literature, and producing it makes us a little nervous,” said Pangea literary manager  as she broke from a pre-rehearsal circle in Waring Jones Theater at the Playwrights’ Center in Minneapolis, where the play opens today. “We want to stage it with clarity, so that we can honor its achievement and bring some of its points into sharp, dramatic focus.”

“No Longer at Ease” is the second Achebe book to bring wide recognition to African literature. The main character in “Ease,” Obi Okonkwo, is a grandson of the protagonist in Achebe’s 1958 debut, “Things Fall Apart.”

Set on the eve of Nigeria’s independence from Britain, “Ease” revolves around Obi, a young man whose Ibo people have raised money to send him to school in England. After completing his education — he becomes a poet instead of, say, an engineer — he has returned, full of idealism. He is eager to help usher Nigeria into a new era.

Obi confronts the deep-seated traditions of his countrymen. His mother would rather commit suicide than permit him to marry the woman he loves, who is from a class of untouchables. The ethically and morally upright Obi eventually succumbs to the things he condemns: He takes a bribe and is arrested.

Securing the rights to stage this world premiere was the easy part for Pangea’s creative team. Through a mutual friend, the company got in touch with Achebe, a professor at Bard College in New York. Natarajan then made contact with Achebe’s agent in London.

FINDING THE FOCUS

The hard work was narrowing a sprawling, epic novel for the stage. E.G. Bailey, who adapted the book, and director Dipankar Mukherjee use 11 actors, many in a chorus, to play all the parts.

Bailey, a Liberian-born poet, playwright and performance artist, had other challenges while working on “Ease.” Shortly after he did a first draft of the play in June 1999, he returned to his homeland for the first time since his youth.

“The big danger for me was not making this my own story,” he said during a rehearsal break. “This is really a story of change and tradition. Obi went away to school, like I did. He owes something to the community. He wants to bring enlightenment, but he has too little appreciation for tradition.”

Bailey and Mukherjee brought in leaders of Twin Cities Nigerian organizations to work on accents and to talk about the play’s themes. The Pangea creative team discovered many complexities; for example, the bribery that is so pervasive in the book and in much of contemporary Africa is rooted in a benign traditional practice of gift exchange.

Bailey and Mukherjee also delved into the conflict of values that Obi embodies. Because of his English upbringing, Obi sees bribery as more of a crime than abortion. When his girlfriend — the same one his mother has forbidden him to marry — becomes pregnant, he seeks money for an abortion.

In traditional Ibo culture, to have an abortion is to undo your chi, or spirit, Bailey said. “That is the worst thing you could do, killing your soul,” he continued. “Obi cannot see that. He is a good man, full of righteous, ethical fire. And the things he wants to change will change. But not on his timetable.”

The play’s conflicts have universal applications, Mukherjee said. “We’re talking about Nigeria as much as India,” he said. “In both cases, different mini-states were forged together into a nation, and the traditional values continue to clash with the legacy of colonialism and the possibilities of the future.

“The brilliance of Achebe is that we can see our own struggles here as we try to find a progressive vision of how to live. We want to stay true to his broad vision and ours.”

What: Adapted from Chinua Achebe’s novel by E.G. Bailey. Directed by Dipankar Mukherjee.

When: Opens 7:30 p.m. today. Runs 7:30 p.m. Thu.-Sun. Thru May 27.

Where: Waring Jones Theater, Playwrights’ Center, 2301 E. Franklin Av., Mpls.

Tickets: $14-$16. 612-343-3390.

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Pangea World Theatre presents No Longer At Ease

4 May 2001 at 9:00 am (Shows, Theatre) (, , , )

No Longer At Ease
by e.g. bailey
based on the novel by Chinua Achebe

May 4-27, 2001

No Longer At Ease is the story of Obi Okonkwo who returns to Nigeria from England filled with romantic idealism and finds a society full of conflicting demands. Set on the eve of Nigeria’s independence from Britain this is an ironic story about the clash between tradition and modernity as represented by the forces of colonialism. e.g. bailey’s stage adaptation brings to life all the emotional force and poetry of this journey into self-hood.

Co-presented by the Playwrights’ Center’s NewStage Directions program

This project is made possible in part by funds from the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council (MRAC) by an appropriation from the State Legislature.

“You got into Achebe’s head.” – Audience Member

“…a big hearted, thrilling theatrical experience.” – St. Paul Pioneer Press

“…Pangea World Theater has adapted the book, titled No Longer at Ease, into a first-rate play, featuring a sparkling performance by James Young II as Obi, the grandson of the hero of Things Fall Apart, newly retuned to Nigeria on the eve of independence.” – City Pages

“If you like economical and evocative theater, go see “No Longer at Ease,” Pangea World Theater’s adaptation of Chinua Achebe’s novel.” – Star Tribune

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Arkology

22 July 1999 at 9:00 am (Music, Recordings, Spoken Word) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

@rkology is a spoken work collective, which melds poetry with music. Our goal is to create a spoken word/music synthesis based in the aesthetic of the jazz ensemble where each instrument, including the voice, enters the ensemble on an equal footing and has an opportunity to lead and shape the resulting sound, creating a multi-sensory experience.  The work originates, variously in concept, work, image and/or sound.  We perform original work, and the work of other writers and musicians, including Nikki Giovanni, Nina Simone and Larry Neal.

The collective was co-founded by members: e.g.bailey (verbalist) Miré Regulus (writer/vocalist), KONA (drums), Dennis Maddix (bass), Mankwe Ndosi (vocalist), ANIKA (vocalist), and Malo Adams (guitar).  Currently performing with the collective are e.g. bailey, Miré Regulus, KONA, Dennis Maddix, Mankwe Ndosi and Tommy Speath.

@rkology was chosen for the City Pages’ Picked to Click Best Local Bands Poll in both 1998 and 1999.

@rkology has performed at Groove Garden Sundays (Cabooze and the 400 bar), Freeloaded Wednesdays the Front, Kieran’s Irish Pub, the Minneapolis Institute for the Arts, Intermedia Arts, Powderhorn Park Neighborhood School, and at First Friday’s—at the Minnesota History Center.  @rkology also recently opened for Roy Ayers. The  group will have upcoming performances at Intermedia Arts  and local venues around town.

‘That said, the five groups listed above each offer intelligent twists on their genres and, most important, share a commitment to simplicity and clarity of vision–be that the elegant authority of Mason Jennings, the poetic abstraction of the spoken-word/jazz collective Arkology, or the unironic teen-rebellion anthems of Selby Tigers.’ – Kate Sullivan (St. Paul Pioneer Press)

‘Arkology, a jazz/soul/spoken-word collective, has really come into its own over the last year…the group’s Nikki Giovanni-meets-Brand New Heavies vibe has attracted more people each time I see them…’ – Rachel Joyce (Walker Art Center)

‘ARKOLOGY is spoken word and a hell of a rhythm section.’ – Jen Downham (KFAI and Groove Garden Records)

e.g. bailey (poet/vocalist) is an actor writer poet and expressionist in many different forms of art.  born in saclepea, liberia, he has lived in the united states since 1979.  he discovered the freedom and power of writing in high school and it has served as a foundation since.  arriving in the twin cities in 1993, he has actively pursued acting and performance, and is a founding member of sirius b, a black male performance collective, with whom he performed in punic wars, at the walker art center, and in monday morning body count, concerning the high rate of homicide among black men, which he created and co-wrote. he is also an original member of spine:, a writer’s collective developed by the loft and the walker art center. spine: produced spoken work performances at several local venues and created a performance at the walker art center titled, spine: stripped bare. in addition , mr. bailey is a spoken word artist who has performed, in solo performances, with musicians, or with the cacophony chorus at many different venues including first avenue, biscuits and blues, bryant lake bowl (for patrick’s cabaret), the walker art center, the fine line music cafe, penumbra, and kfai fresh air radio.  in 1995 mr. bailey was the winner of the hughes knight diop poetry award at the 5th annual black writers conference conducted by the gwendolyn brooks center for creative writing. his poems were published in warpland, a publication by the gwendolyn brooks center.  he recently co-wrote blues for nina, a poetic exploration of the life of nina simone, with miré regulus, and is working on a film residency for the walker art center, coordinated by artist-in-residence, susan robeson.

KONA (percussionist) is a self-taught musician.  He has taught himself different aspects of rhythm through listening.  He currently performs with local psychedelic surf-pop sensation TV Baby and is also working on a project, Locust Solace, with Chris Lynch and Doug Reed, at Gark Recording Studio, as well as being a contributing component of Arkology.  KONA carries the sense that music is a never-ending learning process and envisions himself continuing on the music path that will let listeners move their hips when they hear his music.  He is also learning other instruments.  KONA would like to give thanks and praises to the Most High. Peace.

Dennis James Maddix (bassist) is a native of St. Paul and has been a journeyman bassist since 1980. He has played primarily Jazz, though he has branched out into Blues, Orchestral, Reggae, Pop and Rock musics.  Dennis has worked with the Chimera, Park Square,  Mixed Blood, and Penumbra Theaters as a musician, a tech, and as music director  for “Revisions for the Maid” in Park Square’s 1982 season. Dennis is currently active in the spoken word and music collective ARKOLOGY and in the local band TV BABY.

Mankwe Monika Nkatuati Ndosi (vocalist) is a Minnesota born, Tanzanian spirited performing artist.  Ever aware of inspiration and possibility she is jumping into all kinds of art around the Twin Cities with friends and colleagues @rkology, the Circle of Choice Ensemble, Kirk Washington Jr., René Ford, Derrik Phillips, friends at the double G spot (struggle space), Aarawak Productions, and others who have blessed her footsteps.  She is revisioning and reworking Cornbread, a monthly potluck and improvisational performance/dialogue at Intermedia Arts.  She is currently collecting hubcaps and painting mirrors, saving to return to Tanzania, worshipping the shortwave radio, her cat, and her car, and celebrating the families she has been born into and has become a part of since returning to the town of her birth.  Deepest praise and respect to the ancestors and elders who have brought us here. Sema Yote y Upendo.

Miré Regulus (poet/vocalist) is a writer, dancer, performer and roving arts administrator. She writes, performs, dances with her mind, and takes care of business.  Life, necessity and her heart has led her journey from Illinois to Andover to Brown to the little cities that could.  She has been sited at the Playwright Center, Penumbra, Walker Art Center, Patrick’s Cabaret and the Red Eye in her various adventures. Her works include:  a woman alone with others, performed as a solo piece at Patrick’s and expanded for Red Eye’s Works-in-Progress ’95 series; can you see me clearly, a slipstream into discovery—performed for Patrick’s 11th Anniversary show; jambo through my toes, three bits and pieces performed in Penumbra’s Audre Lorde Sighs Late Nite Series.  She is a member of the Circle of Choice Ensemble, which recently revived June Wilson’s Choice…like ripe fruit in March ’98.  Her most recent works include blues for nina, a poetic exploration of the life of Nina Simone, co-written with e.g. bailey, and jibber jabber headnoise, a work-in-progress.

–to speak is to make it real/to write is to let it live/to enact is to let it go/   /to change it is to choose again

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