School of Dramatic Arts showcases African culture in “Wedlock of the Gods”

The play illustrates how different Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” would be if it were set in Nigeria instead of Italy.

The rehearsal took place at the Bing theatre on Sept. 26, 2022.

The production, titled “Wedlock of the Gods,” marries African culture with the Shakespearean classic “Romeo and Juliet.” Set in Nigeria, the play focuses on a young woman who reconnects with her true love after the death of her arranged husband. The play was written by the first published Nigerian woman playwright, Zulu Sofola, and the cast is predominantly composed of Black actors of the School of Dramatic Arts. The show will be performed on campus at Bing Theater from September 29 through October 2.

Show director Bayo Akinfemi said the play’s importance is directly correlated to its relevance in the current world.

“It’s about a woman who is basically trying to fight against the oppressive patriarchal institution. I thought in this current atmosphere in the [United States]. … It was really relevant,” said Akinfemi, who was assigned last year to SDA’s literary committee and proposed “Wedlock of the Gods.”

Stage manager Marcus Maia added that the show’s unique blend of legacy and modernity makes it an important play for SDA to put on.

“I’ve never seen a production like this in my, albeit respectively short, career in theater,” Maia said. “To center and honor a story that takes place in a Black community outside of the United States, whilst still offering it the same respect and authenticity we give to the characters in more Eurocentric and well-known texts is something that makes ‘Wedlock of the Gods’ special and necessary.”

The choreographer of “Wedlock of the Gods,” Shannon Grayson, has incorporated elements of West African dance to connect with the storyline, a change from other SDA plays that have Eurocentric choreographies.

“I feel like, again, because of the pandemic, even the racial pandemic that we had, it’s opened up the eyes of everyone, including the university. And SDA can really take advantage of that,” Grayson said. “We have so many teachers around here that are immersed in these art forms that can incorporate it in our shows to make it modernized or contemporary.”

Students performing in “Wedlock of the Gods” shared the impact the play had on them personally. Nia Baker, a junior majoring in theatre with an entertainment industry minor, played Nneka, mother of Ogwoma.

“It’s just so African-centric and it showcases the beauty, magic and honestly, just a really authentic African-centric story,” Baker said. “And it was created by this phenomenal playwright. It’s kind of been a really beautiful journey for me.”

Jordan Anderson, a sophomore majoring in acting for the stage, screen and new media who plays the character Okolie, said they loved working with the rest of the cast and crew.

“The cast, you know, everyone in here is really talented and they’re really amazing,” Anderson said. “They show the truth of the story very well. And with Bayo’s direction, it shows it even more fantastically.”

Tickets to see “Wedlock of the Gods” can be purchased online at this link.