On Friday, Jan. 26, “HEAR WORD! Naija Woman Talk True” opens at the American Repertory Theater in Harvard Square. Written and directed by Ifeoma Fafunwa, the play of vignettes explores female stories of resistance in a patriarchal society. Fafunwa says, “With the current climate in America, audiences will get to connect with a culture that’s very different from their own. And people will ask themselves where they are responsible for this inequity.”
The production is composed of personal stories from Fafunwa’s own life and from those of women she’s interacted with. The stories come from both rural women and city dwellers, who experience the same manifestations in different ways. “It’s now even more relevant,” says Fafunwa. “Each culture is dealing with its own kind of patriarchy, but it’s all the same thing.”
Fafunwa wrote “HEAR WORD!” in 2014. After its initial performances, word of the show began to spread internationally. “It’s a first that you have women on stage outside of Nigeria, representing Nigeria and offering global solutions,” says Fafunwa. She wrote the piece for African women, but as women of different descents began to see the show and relate to it, she realized how widespread the problem of gender inequality is.
The play was designed to travel, with no consistent set, only costumes. Fafunwa hoped to tour the show to appeal to audiences affected by African diaspora. The script uses some Nigerian slang terms and some Yoruba language. The actresses, all of whom have been with the show since the first run, are Nigerian. Over the years, Fafunwa amended the script to include some of the actresses’ own experiences. “They have become a sort of family in telling these stories,” she says.
In addition to speaking against gender inequality, Fafunwa hopes the show will dispel negative stereotypes about Africa. She hopes that the universality of the stories will illustrate that Nigeria is dealing with the same issues as the rest of the world. “I still don’t see myself as a writer,” she says. “I just needed to tell stories. I was tired of the negative rhetoric around Nigeria.”
“HEAR WORD!” will run at A.R.T. for just two weeks, from Jan. 26 through Feb. 11. On Monday, Jan. 22, the cast will host a free event at Hibernian Hall. From 6 to 9 p.m. guests can meet the cast, watch performances and enjoy music. RSVPs on the A.R.T. website are required.