I don’t know for a fact that Obehi Janice and I aren’t related, but the facts seem to line up in many places. We both grew up in the US, the children of West African parents. Based on the stories told in her one-woman show Fufu and Oreos, we probably share some aunts and uncles (or, at the very least, our relatives overseas share opinions). And if we spent some time together, we’d probably compete over men (You loved all the -icans and all the -ians on the playground? Me too, girl. Me too.). The one-hour preview of Fufu and Oreos I saw this Friday night got me excited to hear the full story of someone I could easily call a friend, in the span of one hour in an intimate setting.
The show is described as follows:
A multi-culti 20-something navigates the collisions between her Nigerian heritage, her American lifestyle and the loaded promise of Prozac.
Her acting chops are real; she wouldn’t have earned the title of Boston’s Best Actress from Improper Bostonian earlier this year if they weren’t. Her comedic timing is great, finding ways to point out short-sighted attempts at multicultural understanding through a scene lampooning National Public Radio. And she even demonstrates rap skills in a live performance of her “Black Girl Yoga,” first appearing online earlier this year:
But the thing I appreciated most about Friday’s show was its ability to create a sense of sameness for the audience. If it’s not your experience that Obehi shares with beautiful timing and lots of laughs, it’s an experience you can relate to or understand through her accessible storytelling. Yes, she made friends when she passed Oreos around the theater for the snacking pleasure of the audience, but she also made friends by humorously calling out assumptions and missteps that we all make when talking about culture without unduly shaming anyone in the diverse crowd. Case in point: she starts the show by singing (but not really) “Circle of Life” from The Lion King, an all too common benchmark for most people’s knowledge of Africa…until the whole Ebola thing. But I digress.
Those conversations aren’t just limited to her experiences in the US; she is equally candid about her struggles to be seen as authentically African when she visits Nigeria. Relatives that don’t understand her acting career, parents that reject attempts at vegetarianism, how she would pass along heritage if she married a non-Nigerian…she covers it all. Her expression of the odd in-between that exists for the American-raised children of Africans spoke deeply to my soul, but didn’t dominate the show so much that others without that experience couldn’t enjoy the show.
Fufu and Oreos is, first and foremost, a comedy, but it doesn’t shy away from the serious stuff either- as she noted to an audience member audibly distressed at a point made early in the show, “I never promised you joy in this show.” She shares stories from her childhood and struggles of mental illness with a level of openness that endears her to the audience without overexposing herself. What results is a theatergoing experience that is equal parts heartfelt and honest, emotional but also endearing. I can’t wait to see the full-length production early next year
The full-length production of Fufu and Oreos will be at the Bridge Repertory Theater, directed by Rebecca Bradshaw, in February 2015.