MPAACT stages world premiere of Kosi Dasa

MPAACT stages world premiere of Kosi Dasa

By Edith McCauley

By Edith McCauley

Theater Critic

African masks and a background of percussion and strings set the stage for Shepsu Askhu’s Kosi Dasa. Community beliefs and family loyalty are the values that contribute to the culture of a people, but sometimes adversely affect personal relationships. No Eyes (Elizabeth Isibue) and Diata (Kevin Douglas), the young lovers ready to make their passage into adulthood, find themselves torn apart when No Eyes’ father, Ashen (Andre Teamer), in a moment of weakness defies the Keeper (Earl Fox). The Keeper of Dasa’s temple demands the service of a Kosi, and No Eyes is sent to become his slave.

Diata joins his Grandfather Pappacacia (Robert Hines III), who works the smelter and makes weapons of the finest metal. Begging for his help, Diata is told nothing can be changed. Jemma (Tina Marie Wright), the loving mother, futilely begs her husband to save their child. Ashen’s dreams of death, his anger at the Keeper, and his eventual decision to rob the temple seal their daughter’s fate. A lifetime of service to Dasa takes her from her family and her true love.

For much of the production, the cast is seated in a semi-circle on tribal stools, serving much like a Greek chorus. Carla Stillwell’s role as the Storyteller brings the beauty of language and poetry to the play. Her monologues, delivered directly to the audience, keep us aware of every nuance. She personifies the Griot, the African storyteller who transmits the culture and history of her people with the spoken word. Every member of the cast has a story to tell, and it is that personal experience that gives the production its strength and drama.

African and Indian dance, Brazilian and Asian combat, and the music created with drums, gourds, rattles, rain pipes, finger harps and guitars enliven and enrich the performance in a way that could not be achieved with only the dance and music of one people. Isibue and Nihara Nichelle’s Indian dance, classically choreographed by Jennifer Savariranyn, lent a moment of magic to the darkness of the plot. Poh’ro performed the music, and Aum Mu Ra choreographed the fight scenes.

Staged in the Studio Theater at Victory Gardens, Kosi Dasa runs through Sunday, Feb. 24. The theater is located at 2257 N. Lincoln in Chicago. To order tickets, call the box office at (773)871-3000. MPAACT’s 10th season celebrates its contributions to the Chicago theater scene, and the talents of an extraordinary company.

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