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.
In April, Washington University’s Performing Arts Department (PAD) in Arts & Sciences will present this deceptively light-hearted 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. Friday and Saturday, April 25 and 26; and at 2 p.m. Sunday, April 27.
Edison Theatre is located in the Mallinckrodt Student Center, 6445 Forsyth Blvd. Tickets are $15 — $9 for students, senior citizens and Washington University faculty and staff — and are available through the Edison Theatre Box Office, (314) 935-6543, and through all MetroTix outlets.
For more information, call (314) 935-6543 or visit http://padarts.wustl.edu/
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 as well as founder and producing director of the St. Louis Black Repertory Company. The cast of 17 is led by seniors Jimmy Ganasin Brooks Jr. as Laxunle, 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 and the drummer.
Sets and props are by Angela Bengford, lecturer in the PAD, with costumes by senior lecturer Bonnie Kruger. Lighting is by lecturer Sean Savoie. Choreography is by Keith Tyrone.
Widely considered Africa’s greatest living playwright, Soyinka 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.
Born in 1934 to Yoruba parents, Sovinka was raised in Western Nigeria, then still a British colony, and studied drama at the University of Leeds, England. In 1958 he produced his first play, The Swamp-Dwellers, for the University of London Drama Festival. Later that year both The Swamp-Dwellers and The Lion and the Jewel received productions in Sovinka’s home town of Ibadan, Nigeria.
In 1960 Sovinka returned to Nigeria to launch his own company, 1960 Masks, serving as writer, director and actor. In 1964 he formed the Orisun Theatre Company and around the same time also began writing political commentary. In 1967, during the Nigerian Civil War, he proposed a cease-fire with Biafran rebels — a proposal that led to his imprisonment by the government of General Yakubu Gowon. Sovinka spent much of the next two years in solitary confinement, an experience he later chronicled in Poems From Prison (1969) and the autobiographical novel The Man Died (1972).
Following his release, Sovinka passed several years in voluntary exile but returned to Nigeria in 1975 as a professor of English at the University of Ife. He soon emerged as one of Africa’s most prominent and prolific literary voices and in 1986 he became the first black African to receive the Nobel Prize for literature. However in 1993 he was again forced into exile, by the military regime of General Sani Abacha, though he was able to return following Abacha’s death in 1998.
Sovinka currently divides his time between Nigeria and the United States.
WHO: Washington University’s Performing Arts Department
WHAT: The Lion and the Jewel by Wole Soyinka; directed by Ron Himes
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, April 18 and 19; 2 p.m. Sunday, April 20; 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, April 25 and 26; 2 p.m. Sunday, April 27
WHERE: Edison Theatre, located in the Mallinckrodt Student Center, 6445 Forsyth Blvd.
COST:$15; $9 for seniors, students and Washington University faculty and staff. Available at the Edison Theatre Box Office, (314) 935-6543, and all MetroTix outlets.
INFORMATION: (314) 935-6543