Kelechi (Mfoniso Udofia), a bestselling Pulitzer Prize finalist, returns home to Nigeria after a fifteen-year absence. Her father, Godwin (Oberon K.A. Adjepong), is dying, and her agent is haranguing her about the next book: maybe something about “war time in Africa”? Riddled with anxiety and depression—which is somehow linked to this place—she struggles through interactions with a former beau, Obina (Segun Akande), a precocious house girl, Beatrice (Mirirai Sithole), and a gaggle of handsy aunties.
Ngozi Anyanwu’s The Homecoming Queen is a lovely play, a conventional but satisfying exploration of home, expatriation, and the comforts of fiction. Godwin, giving his daughter a tour of the home, tells her it has “everything for your writers’ escape.” “Retreat,” she corrects him, but later she will admit, “I tell myself untrue stories and make them true.” At times, I was reminded of the final scene in 8 ½, where all the chaos of life is reconciled in a neatly-choreographed circus. For Kelechi, too, art is the space where unruly and uncomfortable truths can be corrected: writing is, in fact, an escape.
At first, Ms. Udofia is too irritable, and her reliance on indication makes Kelechi seem more a spoiled American brat than a victim of trauma shakily confronting the scene of the crime. However, as the play progresses, she eases into the role. Mr. Adjepong is terrific; his Godwin is a puckish old man who treats his own arrogance with grandfatherly indulgence—on his deathbed, he grins, “I want you to chronicle this in case I say something great.” But the highlight is doubtless Ms. Sithole, who packs enormous power into her moon-eyed stares despite a short and scrawny frame: “You think loud,” Kelechi complains, and indeed, her silence is louder than most actors’ howls.
There is great warmth to The Homecoming Queen, a warmth that spilled into the hallway when the play ended as the audience happily roared about the show they had just seen. For a moment, at least, Ms. Anyanwu’s art had produced the kind of joyful contentment that Kelechi could only find in her imagination.