Playwright Ngozi Anyanwu didn’t have one woman in mind when she wrote the lead role of Kelechi in The Homecoming Queen —it was an amalgamation of several strong Black women.
“She’s me, my sisters, my other first-generation cousins,” the Nigerian-American said about the protagonist in her play about a novelist who returns to her family’s village to see her ailing father.
“She’s a lot of Black women I know. That impenetrable woman who’s managed to put up a shield for so long,” she continues.
Between books from authors like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, television scripts from writers like Amy Aniobi and acting from talents like Yvonne Orji, the Nigerian narrative in pop culture is vast and ever expanding. Though, an underlying theme is the tenacity women from Africa’s most populated country possess —a story that transcends throughout the diaspora.
But often, strength is a defense for trauma as Anyanwu hopes to unpack in the funny but highly-emotional play.
“I think the play speaks to how culturally we deal with trauma, how some of us are asked to forget about it, bury it, keep it moving as a means of survival, and I think that’s something that people all over the world do,” Anyanwu said.
“But as Black women that is something, I think, that is expected of us. We are expected to swallow our trauma for the good of the whole —the man, the family, the community— and we’re way too good at it.”
Mfoniso Udofia who plays the lead, Kelechi, would agree. The Wellesley College graduate also relates to the experience of going back to Nigeria after being in the U.S. for years.
“I visited Nigeria when I was a pre-teen and the feeling was indescribable,” Udofia said. “I saw my entire family for the first time and I had such a sense of belonging… Going home helped me understand the depth of love. They loved me before they ever even met me. It was that simple.”
Without giving too much of the plot away, The Homecoming Queen is an important addition to the conversation of consent, trauma and mental health and its timing is impeccable.
“Everyone is so talented, that I find myself constantly striving to be/do better,” Udofia said about the all-Black cast. “This group has become family. I also have affirmation that African stories can thrive in the theater. I knew this before. However, every time I am confirmed in the belief.”
The Homecoming Queen is showing at New York City’s Atlantic Theater Company from now until Feb 18.