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Twanas - Review


T
here wasn't much difference between this one and others. Or so I thought. It's just that everything seemed the same. My photographer sitting to my right adjusting his lens like he always does. My reporter’s notebook rested on my lap. Audience buzzing around us, wondering how we got such great seats. Don Williams, the director of this play came out to the crowd before the start of the show.

"You will see magic appear before your eyes," Williams said. And then he had us repeat after him, "I came here tonight to have a real good time and I'm not gonna let nobody stop me from having a great time!" The audience was obedient and chanted after him.

Sure, I'll have a good time, I had thought, but I can't sincerely chant this. I'll be too busy taking notes, getting direct quotes without a tape recorder, deciding on an angle and wondering whether the pictures will come out all right due to the Limited light. But I proved myself wrong.

I managed somehow to ignore the notebook I had on my lap and sat back and enjoyed the show. In fact, I believe that my notebook even fell on the floor. Williams was right; magic did appear before my eyes. Magic that pulled me away from my journalistic dudes and made my stomach hurt from laughter.

U.C. Santa Cruz's African American Theater Arts Troupe brings “Once in a Wifetime" in the midst of the annual February celebration of African-American History Month. However, the characters in this play celebrate Black history a little differently than what we are used to. They celebrate it through polygamy: "the African way of life." ~ ,

"Once in a Wifetime" is a continual roll-on-the-floor-laughing play. It takes the African tradition of polygamy and places it in the modern home of the Rogers Family. After all, polygamy does, as one character puts it, "restore the family image."

Willie Rogers seems like a regular, middle-class working Black man, with expensive modern decor in the home and a beautiful wife, Irma. But there’s something about Roger that's not so regular; he has a sweetheart renamed Nwanyeruwa who is itching to be his second wife. These two love birds met at a Pan-African organization Center for Black Enlightenment which joins a "humble band of brothers and sisters," and advocates the theory that "there's no such thing as a Black man being unfaithful." The Center's leader KweLi claimed that, "Black men should have as many wives as they can have and afford."

The beginning theories of polygamy that were presented early on in the play captured me the most. These theories were so radically sexist, I couldn't help but laugh at the stupidity of it all.


The parody on an African tradition not only makes one laugh at the absurdity of some characters but lets us look back at the traditions of Black history.


"The ultimate solution for the black man is to return to Africa...regain his proper position in the family," says Kweli, "[and] bring the black women back to her proper place."

The humor of it all is that these sexist views get a chance to be acted out. The spunky and rather annoying Nwanyeruwa manages to fulfill her wishes by becoming the second wife of Willie. However, Irma's strong willed nature is reluctant in accepting this polygamy business. A huge part of this play is Willie’s effort at making Irma understand that Christian monogamy breaks up the household but polygamy adds to it.

The audience laughs a' Willie as he slowly grows insane, enraptured by his ego trip of having as many wives as he can have and afford. His theory is that monogamous men also have 2 to 4 wives as well but just at different times, thus costing money, emotions, as well as time. Therefore polygamy is the answer. The absurdity of these arguments only adds to the comic tone of the play.

The comic aspect of the presentation of this particular African heritage stays true throughout the play. It is only the wedding scene in which the audience gets a true respite from the laughter. The wedding of Willie and Nwanyeruwa takes place in the very living room of the Rogers. Here we see an uplifting scene of dancers and drummers enacting a wedding ritual.

Nwanyeruwa's entrance into the Rogers' home is not greeted with a friendly welcome. Rather Irma chases her with a frying pan in hand. The madness of these

characters along with Willie's desire of a happy 3-person family leads to a certain dose of disquietude. Will irma ever find the strength to drive Nwanyeruwa out of the house and knock some sense into Willie?

This is where Clytie - my favorite character of the play comes in. Clyde is the young-at-heart mother of Irma who refuses to let Irma give up on her marriage. Clytie even adds to the humor of the play with her youthful nature and her promiscuous dating of "fine men". With Clytie’s persistence, and an introduction of a sexy male character, Irma devises a plan to win her husband back.

A charismatic smooth talker enters the scene; the man who will help Irma save her marriage. Emile is the good-looking man from the West Indies who sweeps Irma, Clyde, and Nwanyeruwa off their feet. By using Emile, Irma creates a plan that will solve all her problems. If she convinces

Nwanyernwa into plural marriage, Nwanyeruwa will convince Willie to let her take in Emile as a second husband. Finally polygamy in reverse; boomerangs back into the man's face.

Emile agrees to this and Irma instantly enacts this plan. This last scene is filled with humorous relief as the audience finally sees

a woman take charge. Irma convinces Nwanyerowa into believing that in the African way of life, polygamy works for both men and women; it is the joining of brothers and sisters. After all, if the love in an African family is like a circle with no beginning or an end than in plural marriage, "love would truly be a circle," claims Irma.

Nwanyeruwa buys into the idea of this plural marriage easily. The way that Irma mocks Willie's old arguments succeeds in convincing Nwanyeruwa. But of course Willie doesn't buy it. There is no way that Willie was able to share ""his women" with another man. His crazy hypocritical rage is such a drastic change from his earlier notion of polygamy. Nwanyeruwa is then kicked out of the house and Willie realizes who his true wife is and what a mistake he had made.

Willie claims, "A man only makes a mistake like that once in a wifetime."

Actually, I believe that a play like this only happens once in a wifetime. The parody on an African tradition not only makes one laugh at the absurdity of some characters but lets us look back at the traditions of Black history. And that is the reason director Williams chose this play.

Williams worked on this play before as a technician working for sound and lights at the Ebony Showcase Theater. He thought, "One day, I'm going to direct this show." Well, Williams' dream came true.

What attracted Williams most about this film back then was how a different side of life such as polygamy which was still mainstream was brought to the public. "During the 70's there was the Black awakening of African Americans of who they were," Williams said. 'There was the appreciating of oneself and one's heritage."

As for the future, Williams is hoping for a gospel musical on the stages of UCSC. Next quarter, he is offering a 2 unit class, "Intro. to African American Theater" through Porter College which includes lectures as well as play reading.


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