Edris Cooper Anifowoshe's Traveling While Black at Brava Theater Center through October 26, 2014
TWB is epic. It is a story that has audiences laughing while at the same time catching their breath as Edris Cooper Anifowoshe takes us with her into situations only a well-written narrative can then retrieve you from unscathed.
The journey is fraught with peril. And for those who thought only black men had it rough, Cooper-Anifowoshe quickly erases that illusion as she transports us from a MUNI bus ride in San Francisco to a slave ship off the coast of West Africa without a blink of an eye. Seamless transport—the shocks keep us comfortable, so comfortable we don’t miss or feel the millions lost on the journey with us as TWB takes us through the massacre of the Indigenous populations here to the separation of black people abroad—via countries of origin. All of a sudden TWB with an American passport removes the racial stigma and one is just an American traveling.
Cooper-Anifowoshe uses her experiences as a child growing up in Tennessee and Arkansas with a nuclear physicist dad who liked to get in the car with his children and take them on road trips, to share her early experiences TWB in America. Those who know the playwright’s trajectory know this is the condensed version of the story—she leaves out a lot, but what we see is her navigation of a racially articulated paradigm that keeps beeping when she gets too close to a border or treaty or international agreement. This border or margin is also complicated by gender and national origin.
Using a color-coordinated fleet: boat, an airplane and a suitcase, Cooper-Anifowoshe sails from Spain to Morocco then takes a plane to Nigeria, Abidjan where finally she’s home. The story of her welcome there is one all people of the Diaspora need to feel.
All along the journey we hear Cooper-Anifowoshe’s mother and father. In fact, TWB shows that one cannot leave oneself behind when one changes landscape; however, it is good to check the baggage or lock it away before one boards the plane. TWB shows how having the right attitude and being able to think quickly on one’s feet can save a person’s life as TWB is not for the faint of heart. No, it takes a lot of heart to TWB, especially when traveling with ignorant companions--white Americans with the wrong attitude. She saves her companion's life more than once and then decides it isn't worth the risk, so she "veils up" and leaves him in a pool of blood.
Anifowoshe-Cooper talks about a cultural orientation, that has white American students from Iowa University, think it strange that there are no white people (or few) in Africa, nor do they find it easy to adjust to the fact that black people are in charge.
She realizes they are a risk, yet as their teacher she cannot leave them at the airport (smile). The many faces of the story are funny as the actress puts on many masks, one a Sister-friend who doesn't greet fake camaraderie well when white Americans want to be friends in Africa when in Iowa they could barely speak to her.
TWB shifts for Cooper-Anifowoshe when with dual citizenship once she marries a Yoruba man and means she can choose to show her green African passport or blue American passport. Cooper-Anifowoshe speaks about how sad she and her newly minted African American students felt when they saw how disrespectfully people they’d come to respect and love were treated by American immigration officers. The newlywed had to leave her husband behind.
A friend of mine (later) tells me the story of her husband who was caught in Egypt when the Americans were held by Iran and the airports were shutting down. Marty held up his blue passport, and he was able to board one of the last planes leaving North Africa.
We visit former southern plantations, slave ships, the Shrine (in Lagos) while Fela lay ill behind the curtain, sacred places along the Oshun river . . . run for our lives with Edris as boys chase her and others in Spain with ill intent, bricks sailing by her head; get pulled over in a SF Mime Troupe truck by Southern cops who take them in for questioning after finding contraband in the vehicle—black and white people.
It is a wonderful jaunt. Cooper-Anifowoshe wearing an earring with the outline of Africa jauntily swinging from one ear as she talks plenty smack during the never a dull moment sojourn at home and abroad. TWB is lively, the pacing up temple, the text sharp and witty—it is as if we dropped by the playwright's house for the evening to catch up on the latest news. Considering this is a long overdue visit—literally hundreds of years between conversations, time travel and continent hopping . . . Cooper-Anifowoshe ends where she started--San Francisco on the 14 bus.
Standing on the crowded bus the lights fade.
(I believe the 14 bus has one of the longest routes in San Francisco, at least it goes through more neighborhoods with a changing demographic than any other (I saw a film about this at the MVFF or SFIFF many years ago—Rhodessa Jones, founder, Medea Project, is in it. The bus goes through Noe Valley, her neighborhood).
Brava Theater Center is at 2781 24th Street @ York in San Francisco, CA. For tickets and information visit www.brava.org Edris’s play is in the smaller, more intimate theatre Annex.
Shows are Friday-Saturday, 8 p.m., Sunday, 3 p.m. Tickets are $15.
Recent articles about TWB: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/05/travel/traveling-while-black.html?_r=0 and http://www.huffingtonpost.com/oneika-raymond/musings-on-traveling-while-black_b_4552607.html and http://www.essence.com/2013/01/07/real-talk-tales-traveling-while-black/
Funny, none of these stories are from a black American male perspective.