In the note on her new play, Nollywood Dreams, Jocelyn Bioh says, “I wanted to write a love letter to this amazing and uniquely specific expression of African artistry,” and that is precisely what she has done.
The drama centers on Ayamma Okafor (Sandra Okuboyejo), an aspiring actress who in the early ‘nineties sees a chance to realize her dreams when the director Gbenga Ezie (Charles Hudson III) announces he will hold open auditions for the female lead in his new film, The Comfort Zone. Ayamma gets assistance from her starstruck sister, Dede (Nana Mensah), but faces competition from a more seasoned actress, Fayola Ogunleye (Emana Rachelle), known as the “Nigerian Halle Berry with Tina Turner legs.” Fayola is not only Gbenga’s ex-wife; she also has dirt on him.
In her previous work, School Girls; or, the African Mean Girls Play, Bioh relied on a well-worn narrative but shifted its focus, thus reviving its tropes with a fresh sense of discovery. It is clear that Nollywood Dreams is another such work, through A Star Is Born and All about Eve are not name-dropped this time around; the decision is especially appropriate considering the industry she depicts borrowed heavily from Hollywood on its way to surpassing its output (Nollywood is second only to Bollywood in its number of annual productions).
The result is predictable but amiable, a perfectly delightful way to spend an afternoon or evening. The actors are uniformly strong, particularly Abena, who plays a convivial talk show host seemingly able to say the word “Nigeria” without opening her mouth. If Nollywood Dreams doesn’t quite match the strength of its predecessor, that’s not exactly a problem. There’s nothing wrong with setting one’s sights on a nostalgic, crowd-pleasing comedy and then writing just that.
Nollywood Dreams runs through November 28th at the Newman Mills Theater. 511 W. 52nd Street New York, NY. 1 hour 30 minutes. No intermission. Photograph by Daniel J. Vasquez.