Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.


A Man of Good Hope – An Enduring Refugee


While impossible to wrap one’s mind around extremes of worldwide refugee/immigrant suffering, the experience of a single man hits home with unerring aim. When A Man of Good Hope was scheduled at BAM, President Obama was still in the White House. Little did its host or creators realize how much more the play’s powerful message would resonate in what has become a toxic atmosphere of isolationism and bigotry.

The production can arguably be called a people’s opera – which is to say it features operatic arias in tandem with traditional African music and pop. Indigenous percussive movement, freewheeling staging, and costumes made of street clothes with African touches, give it the aura of being put on by itinerant players which couldn’t be further from the truth.  Actors sing (in several languages), rhythmically dance, and play seven marimbas – mallet-struck wooden xylophones, occupying both sides of a raked stage surrounded by corrugated metal. The only scenery/props are door frames, cardboard guns, placards, and boxes. No more is needed.

As told to South African writer and scholar, Jonny Steinberg (a white man) over the course of a year, A Man of Good Hope (after his 2015 book) dramatizes the inadvertent pilgrimage of Somali Asad Abdullahi. Then living in a Cape Town shanty, its protagonist was cobbling together a living making deliveries when Steinberg paid for his subject’s time in order to make it feasible for him to be off the hustle. Every interview was conducted in the author’s western car with clear view of oncoming trouble. Abdullahi had learned his lesson well. (By the end of the process, he and his family were admitted to The United States – after which, alas, we know nothing.)

At eight years-old, Abdullahi witnessed the murder of his mother, was put on a truck by his uncle and then separated from an accompanying cousin when the 15 year-old was conscripted into the army. Shown kindness by a tea seller, at nine, he found himself nursing (feeding, wiping, washing) her through a gunshot wound to the leg. She would eventually abandon the boy.

As he (often unwillingly) moved from Somalia through Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Johannesburg, the boy grew up facing poverty, xenophobia, repeated violence by both a diverse roster of rebels and his “own” people (the Somali “clan” system is omnipresent), married, had a child, divorced, and married again.

Still, this is not a piece made up solely of cruelty and racism. Our hero perseveres. Every village presents a fresh start, every human connection a new opportunity to work with others. He’s hard working and resourceful. There are hopeful welcomes, reunions, and successes along the way. Nothing is taken for granted, yet the character himself is not portrayed as flawless. Pragmatically Abdullahi put one foot in front of the other, never becoming like those who made his life serially horrific. Somewhere over the horizon was America where it’s always safe, there are no guns, everyone is rich…

A Man of Good Hope is a testament to human spirit and the power of brotherhood almost as much as an historical warning against discrimination, violence, and utter lack of compassion. It’s illuminating, entertaining, and exhausting. (It could successfully be cut by at least half an hour.) What ultimately keeps us (the audience) from being enveloped by fatalism is likely musicalization  – often buoyant, pulsing tunes, empathetic vocals, and gestural dance. Still, if one prays or has an inclination to political action, this offers ample reason to do both.

A Man of Good Hope, Isango Ensemble

The Isango Ensemble – all sizes, shapes, ages and colors, is terrific. Director Mark Dornford-May does a wonderful job of making ebb and flow seem organic; keeping energy high, focus complete. Drama is visceral. Hope is happy. My single caveat is that it’s difficult to understand a great many of the strong accents; we get the gist, but particulars are too often lost. (Speech & Dialogue – Lesley Nott Manim)

Abdullahi is played by the appealing Siphosethu Juta as an eight year-old, Zoleka Mpotsha as a youth, Luvo Tamba as a young man and Ayanda Tikolo as a grown man. The succession is seamless. Busiswe Ngejane and Pauline Malefane have particularly beautiful voices. Mandisi Dyantyis is a marvelously visual conductor.

Photos of The Company by Rebecca Greenfield

A Man of Good Hope                                                                                                                

Based on the book by Jonny Steinberg
Isango Ensemble/Young Vic
Directed by Mark Dornford-May
Music- Mandisi Dyantyis with the Ensemble
Movement- Lungelo Ngamiana
BAM Howard Gilman Opera House
Through February 19, 2017

On July 4th, See How Liberty Came to Our Shores


The story of how the Statue of Liberty came to New York, and the debate of the country’s immigration policies of the late 1880’s is playing out on the delightfully intimate theatre stage of 42West. It’s a perfectly timed production that opens on our country’s birthday, July 4th, but also during the height of the national debate on the issue of immigration.

Liberty: A Monumental New Musical includes a cast of outstanding veteran actors from Broadway and national tours who portray a selection of witnesses to the Statue’s arrival in New York. Through the stories of newly arrived immigrants, and those of high society who feared the numbers of immigrants, we learn that history does repeat itself, as we continue to grabble today with the numbers of immigrants still struggling to make America home in 2016, just as in 1886.

Abigail Shaprio as Liberty. Photo by Russ Rowland

Abigail Shapiro as Liberty

Adapted from the musical, Lady of Copper by Dana Leslie Goldstein, Jon Goldstein and Robert Bruce McIntosh, the story begins in France, as the statue’s sculptor Bartholdi (Ryan Duncan), completes his design and ships the statue to America. The statue, however, is in the form of the talented Abigail Shapiro, 14, (Cindy Lou Who in Broadway’s Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas) but her arrival is anything but monumental.

Emma Rosenthal and Nick DeVito. Photo by Russ Rowland

Emma Rosenthal and Nick DeVito

In fact, the financing for the building of the statue’s pedestal has not materialized, and the country is in recession. It takes the help of newspaper publisher, Joseph Pulitzer (Mark Aldrich) to use the power of the press to encourage donations from the wealthy and middle class. Through the plentiful musical numbers (17 in all) we also watch the poet, Emma Lazarus, (Emma Rosenthal), receive the inspiration she needs for her epic sonnet, “The New Colossus,” which will find its place on the bronze plaque at the base of the statue. It is her words that we repeat even today, to remind ourselves of the promise we made to the world.

Ryan Duncan, Tina Stafford and Mark Aldrich. Photo by Russ Rowland

Ryan Duncan, Tina Stafford and Mark Aldrich

The talented voices of Brandon Andrus as an immigration commissioner who wants to send the statue back; Tina Stafford who enjoys her two roles, that of the Jewish lady selling knishes on the street and the wealthy Regina Schuyler who promises to fund the commissioner’s campaign; do their characters’ justice and are a joy to watch. We have Nick DeVito who represents Italy; Patrick McKay, the Irish; C. Mingo Long, African-American; and Ryan Duncan, the Native American, who are all looking for their place in the new world. All bring a dignity, and a desperation that touches our hearts.

Cast of Liberty

Cast of Liberty

Liberty is fun for all, and a clever way to impart a little history lesson to us all as we celebrate our country’s 240th birthday. And when the show is over, it’s another perfect time to head on over to the west side, grab a Water Taxi or the Circle Line and go for an up close view of Lady Liberty.

42West is located at 514 West 42nd Street, between 10 and 11th Avenues. The show runs through Labor Day, with performances Sunday, Monday, and Wednesday at 3pm & 7pm; Thursday at 12pm at 3pm.  Visit Liberty the Musical website for more information. 

Photos by Russ Rowland

Top photo: Abigail Shapiro and Brandon Andrus with the cast of Liberty.