Men versus women, modern versus traditional, culture versus colonization. Such conflicts lie at the heart of “The Lion and the Jewel,” a sly and subversive comedy by Nobel Prize-winning author Wole Soyinka.
Beginning this weekend, the Performing Arts Department (PAD) in Arts & Sciences will present this deceptively lighthearted carnival of dance and song as its spring mainstage production.
Performances take place in Edison Theatre at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, April 18 and 19, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, April 20. Performances continue the following weekend at 8 p.m. April 25 and 26 and at 2 p.m. April 27.
Set in Ilujinle, a Yoruba tribal village in western Nigeria, “The Lion and the Jewel” explores the rivalry between Lakunle, a progressive but self-important westernized schoolteacher, and Baroka, the domineering village chief. Both men attempt to woo Sidi, a local beauty known as “the Jewel,” though both also leave much to be desired as suitors. Lakunle is arrogant and condescending, belittling traditional ways — from tribal dress to “bride-prices” — while the “Old Lion” Baroka simply wishes Sidi to join his already large collection of wives and concubines.
Yet when Sidi’s portrait appears in a magazine, her newfound celebrity turns the men’s competition inside out. What follows is an engaging mix of deception, manipulation and misunderstanding, as Sidi attempts to chart her own destiny somewhere between the old and the new.
“The Lion and the Jewel” is directed by Ron Himes, the Henry E. Hampton Jr. Artist-in-Residence and founder and producing director of the St. Louis Black Repertory Company. The cast of 17 is led by seniors Jimmy Brooks as Lakunle, Revocat Murayi as Baroka and Erin Vaughn as Sidi. Also featured are sophomore Maryse Pearce as Sadiku, Baroka’s head wife; junior Alpa Banker as The Favorite; Hal Bates Jr. as a local wrestler; Rob Demery as the surveyor; and Arthur Moore as the drummer.
Sets and props are by Angela Bangford, lecturer in the PAD, with costumes by senior lecturer Bonnie Kruger. Lighting is by lecturer Sean Savoie. Choreography is by Keith Tyrone.
Soyinka is widely considered Africa’s greatest living playwright. He has written some 20 plays, including “The Trials of Brother Jero” (1964), “Madmen and Specialists” (1970) and “King Baabu” (2001). Other works include two novels, a pair of film scripts, several memoirs, numerous essay collections and a half-dozen volumes of poetry. In 1986, he became the first black African to receive the Nobel Prize for literature. Soyinka divides his time between Nigeria and the United States.
Tickets are $15 — $9 for students, senior citizens, faculty and staff — and are available through the Edison Theatre Box Office and through all MetroTix outlets.
For more information, call 935-6543 or visit padarts.wustl.edu.