Soyinka’s “The Lion & The Jewel” brings total art to Edison Theatre, Washington University, St. Louis

“The Lion and the Jewel” written by Wole Soyinka, directed by Ron Himes and presented by the Washington University Performing Arts Department, opened tonightat Washington University’s Edison Theatre in St Louis, Missouri. The play continues through April 27th.

Soyinka Kings Horseman

The Washington University Performing Arts Department describes the dance-drama cum social satire like this:Wole Soyinka, Nobel Laureate for literature, wrote several light-hearted plays that examine political ideas about colonization, culture, and gender roles . . . and often makes fun of Westernized school teachers. In The Lion and the Jewel, Lukunle, the teacher, tries to woo Sidi, the Jewel, by belittling her and trying to convince her to adhere to modern ways. Meanwhile, Baroka, the tribe’s chief, decides that Sidi would make an excellent addition to his already large collection of wives and concubines. In a carnival of dance and song, Sidi must find her destiny somewhere between the old and the new, between the modern and the traditional in this comedy of the human condition.

Poetry, drumming (Grandmaster percussionist Arthur Moore II remains on-stage throughout the 90-minute performance),dance, mime, masks, tableaux, and women’s chorus merge with outstanding acting to provide a delightful evening of theater and powerful storytelling. The modernist-traditionalist debate central to development in Africa is nowhere played out more starkly than in Soyinka’s two tales of the Nigerian village presented in St. Louis this Spring (with “Death and the King’s Horseman” being the other.)

“Lion and the Jewel” is an extended dancepiece that is intricately choreographed by Keith Tyrone; the play remains in constant, telling motion. I loved the physical bits of stage business. I sat close enough to see the actors’ foreheads beaded with sweat from their intense effort. There is, by the way, equal-opportunity beefcake and cheesecake as handsome bodies of both sexes are displayed at their best advantage, with skin not just peeking out, but proudly there.

Jimmy Ganasin Brooks Jr. who plays Lakunle, the school teacher totally slayed me with his mastery of comedic timing and understanding of physical comedy as more than slapstick. He’s something like a young Chalin or Keaton in the way he can move from a rubber-kneed awkward dance that covers the stage to absurdist riffs of dialogue of the moderist to the depths of pathos.

The supporting stagecraft is, as usual in a Himes production, minimally elegant and effective. I loved the sun/moon globes behind the scrim, the trees that flew up and down on wires, the use of silhouette, and great props like the faux zebra skin on the chief’s bed.

Listen folks, if you’re in the St. Louis area and reading this…do yourself a favor and run buy yourself a ticket for one of the remaining performances.

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One Comment

  1. i realy think this book is intresting making it clear how one can be influenced through westsrn life and forget culture at the same time losing valuable things.

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