ANOWA by Ama Ata Aidoo, directed by Rhoma Spencer, with Rebecca Fisseha, Lucky Ejim, d'bi.young, Arthur Lee Rose, Michael Toussaint, Lua Shayenne, Christine Harris, Debbie Y. Nicholls and Mantee Murphy Jr. Presented by AfriCan Theatre Ensemble at Artword (75 Portland). Runs through October 26, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Sunday 2:30 pm. $10-$25. 416-366-7723. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Ghanaian writer Ama Ata Aidoo's Anowa filters the tragedy of African slavery through a striking prism, showing how it becomes a curse not only for slaves but also their enslavers. The play goes even deeper to suggest that 19th-century Ghanaian women were slaves in their own way. The folktale base of the story - Anowa ( Rebecca Fisseha ) insists on marrying Kofi Ako ( Lucky Ejim ), against the wishes of her parents ( d'bi.young and Arthur Lee Rose ) - sets up the plot simply. But the change in Anowa when her husband prospers and becomes involved in the slave trade, both selling his own people to whites and keeping them himself, touches a deeper, darker nerve.
Rhoma Spencer directs an impressive production, drawing on song, dance and drumming (thrilling work by Albert Otoo , H. Fogah Amegah and Kobena Aquaa Harrison ) to provide an authentically atmospheric background for the story. Fisseha's transition from carefree, rebellious child to listless, distracted wife is heartfelt, while Ejim believably conveys Kofi's flip-flops between caring husband and proud, gold-loving entrepreneur. Their relationship - its initial flirtatiousness, the marital fights and conciliations, their inflexible beliefs in what's right and wrong - is totally real.
As Anowa's mother, the always watchable d'bi.young has the show's comic moments, but wait for her energy when, as a chorus member, she and the others tear into Otoo's choreography.
Occasionally the dialogue scenes lose their sharpness, and not all the actors deliver the text with equal strength. But this production proves that the AfriCan Theatre Ensemble has matured into a company that can deliver the dramatic goods.