‘Thread of Gold Beads’ at Publick Playhouse of the Performing Arts

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There is no doubt that the Publick Playhouse for the Performing Arts in Cheverly has its own unique charm. The décor from an art deco period from the last century has been preserved to be a forum for concerts and theater. The theater is conveniently located off the BW Parkway with plenty of free public parking adjacent to the theater.

Merciful judge scene, Dahomey Kingdom. Photo by Jydiel Studios.

Merciful judge scene, Dahomey Kingdom. Photo by Jydiel Studios.

The play Thread of Gold Beads is based on a novel of the same name written by Nike Campbell-Fatoki, and directed by Yele Akinyelu. The author was born in the Ukraine to African parents, but she was raised in Nigeria by her grandmother. She listened to stories about her grandmother’s family’s flight from Dahomey decades ago. She moved to America when she went to Howard University, married and stayed on in the Washington area. The story begins in what is now the country of Benin, formerly the French colony of Dahomey, and before the 1890s the Kingdom of Danhomé. It follows the life of the daughter of the newly crowned king, Princess Amelia, as she goes through the fall of the kingdom and deals with the hardships many growing up in that time in that part of the world experienced.

Translating a novel to the theater is not always easy, especially one that covers so many years in depth. One might have been helped in following the story if the programs had indicated the year change. Adding to this, the performances are done with West African accents. Having spent time in that part of the world, I was fooled. I thought the actors, most of whom had African names in the program, were talking in their own voices until after the performance when they went back to their own natural American accented way of speaking. It was a pleasure having four locals from remote villages to the large city of Lagos, Nigeria, who used authentic accents. However, it made some of the dialogue hard to follow for those who are not accustomed to those speech patterns.

I particularly loved the scenery in Act One. The company created an African village which rotated simply to create a forest. The king’s court was suggested by a simple throne. The simplicity of the rest was fine as even princesses lived in crude thatched huts. The lights in the rear of the stage were used to create stars to indicate night time. Pedestal Events designed both set and props.

The dancing in Act One was the highlight as performed by lead actress Kike Ayodeji as the older Amelia and supporting actress Kumbi Falana as Naseme (older). Other highlights in the first act were the performances of Gertrude Agboli as Ajoke, Amelia’s mother and Femi Onanuga as King Gbehanzin.

The rest of the cast was enthusiastic and the audience was very receptive to the cast, laughing and applauding throughout the production.

The play could have been served better by cutting some of the long pauses between scenes  Some of these lasted minutes. This made the running time at least a half an hour longer than it should have been  It also made the scenes less connected and the complicated story harder to follow. There was some playing of an audio tape which was used from time to time to tell part of Amelia’s story. It could have been used to keep the “thread” of the story more connected, explaining people’s connections to one another or action that was cut from the novel for whatever reason.

Having read the novel, I also wondered why some of the most dramatic scenes were not used to create the horrors of war, slavery (Dahomey about the size of New Jersey was responsible for 20% of the slave trade), being forced into exile and finally living as a refugee, cut off from your former home, family and life. I hope they continue working on the script and the production as I think this story has great potential.

Cast and author, Nike Campbell-Fatoki. Photo by Jydiel Studios.

Cast and author, Nike Campbell-Fatoki. Photo by Jydiel Studios.

I would like to commend some of the younger performer, especially Lalah C. Williams as the younger Amelia and Tomi Ajiboe as the young Nasame. Other notable performances were Bolanle Olapeju as Madame Titilayo and Busola Grillo as Doyin.

Running Time: About Two and and a half hours, with a 20-minute intermission.

Thread of Gold Beads by Three Magi Company played October 4, 2014 at the Publick Playhouse for the Performing Arts – 5445 Landover Road, in Cheverly, MD.

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