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African American Theatre's Wifetime' looks at a different kind of sharing

BY Denise Graab
Sentinel correspondent

WHAT DOES A woman say when her husband comes home and tells her about his newly found desire to take another wife?

"You fools over there at the Center sit around talking about revolution, but if you ever try to move another woman into this house with me, you will see a revolution!" is what Irma Rogers says when her husband Willie does exactly that.

Irma and Willie Rogers are characters in the two-act comedy "Once in a Wifetime," performed by the UC Santa Cruz African American Theatre Arts Troupe through Feb. 25. The play, written in the '70s, focuses on the eternal triangle between men and women from the perspective of the African custom of polygamy.

"It was inspired by my observations of a Pan African group in Washington, D.C., in which polygamy was practiced," says playwright Celeste Walker. "I was really interested in exactly what went on in such relationships." Although the play is a creation of Walker's imagination, her interviews with the group's real wives and husbands helped develop its characters.

"The most difficult part (about playing her) is that her beliefs are different than mine," says troupe member Nandi Ellis, who plays the character Yeruwa, the woman Willie falls in love with in "Wifetime." "Like the submissive role she must play I wouldn't be into sharing. But as far as her spunkiness, her outgoingness, that part was easy."


Ellis feels that polygamy is a matter of cultural perspective. "It's different here in America. In other parts of the world, in Africa and other countries, polygamy is looked accepted as a part of the culture," she says.

Although the custom of polygamy is not common in America, the play does address some of the male/female dynamics that are. For instance, when Irma says, "I'm glad we don't have that mess going on over here," Willie quickly disagrees with her.

"Oh, it's over here alright. Why do you think there's so many divorces in America?" he says. Willie tells Irma that there are multiple women per each male in the city and says, "Whether they know it or not, every woman in this city is sharing their man."

The UCSC African American Theater Arts Troupe, now on its fifth production, was formed four years ago by a handful of students and its director, Don Williams, to promote "community building" and to "provide an outlet for the creative talents of African American artists" on campus.

Since the group's formation, its membership has grown, it has awarded scholarships yearly from the money it has raised at performances, and it has performed at middle and high schools in Santa Cruz and Monterey counties. The scholarships, Williams says, were established to help African American students at the university, and the community efforts entice younger African American students to attend UCSC.

In the play, Willie Rogers is played by Eric Jackson, a UCSC. chemistry senior who is founding member, the current president and an actor with the troupe.

When asked, Jackson insists he really isn t like Willie.

"I know lots of guys like him that I could look at as examples. but I'm not like them," he says with a smile. "I'm happy with the one woman I'm with!"

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