Theater Review: THE HALF-GOD OF RAINFALL (American Repertory Theater in a co-production with New York Theater Workshop in Cambridge, MA)

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by Lynne Weiss on September 12, 2023

in Theater-Boston,Theater-Regional


The A.R.T. production of the stunningly staged and audaciously acted The Half-God of Rainfall is an act of creative destruction. It begins with the seven actors crashing through the fourth wall by appearing on the stage and introducing themselves by name and then listing their role or roles. This places us firmly in the realm of storytelling. The entire production is narrated, either by actors telling us what they are doing, or by others who describe the actions of others on the stage. This doesn’t mean there is no acting, no scenic design, no costumes, or no lighting. All of these elements are very much present and impressive in Nigerian-British playwright Inua Ellam’s bold mash-up of Greek and Yoruba mythology, legends of U.S. basketball, and an X-Men sensibility.

Russell G. Jones, Jason Bowen, Michael Laurence,
Mister Fitzgerald, Patrice Johnson Chevannes, and Kelley Curran
Patrice Johnson Chevannes, Jennifer Mogbock, and Mister Fitzgerald

Patrice Johnson Chevannes and Jennifer Mogbock deliver physically arresting performances (movement direction by Orlando Pabotoy) as Nigerian river Orisha (or goddess) Osún and her daughter Modúpé. Osún delivers an edict that will protect her child from any man, but Zeus is not a man, he is a god, and a noted sexual predator. The fact that Udúpé is off limits only makes her more appealing to Zeus (Michael Laurence), who rapes her as he has so many other women, including Leda and Europa. The offspring of his violation of Udúpé is Demi (Mister Fitzgerald), a Nigerian name that refers to the character’s demi-god status as the offspring of a god and a mortal. Demi grows up to be a basketball player who cannot miss a shot, also known as a “rain man” for his ability to keep balls swishing through the net.

Kelley Curran, Michael Laurence, and Russell G. Jones
Jason Bowen and Kelley Curran

With director Taibi Magar, Ellams has transformed this North American premiere of what he says in a Boston Globe interview started out as a poem he originally imagined as a one-person performance. A 2019 production in London had two performers, but this production has seven actors, including Jason Bowen as thunder Orisha Sàngó, Kelly Curran as Greek goddess Hera, and Russell G. Jones as Orisha trickster Elegba. Ellams explains that he originally saw basketball star Demi as the central figure in the play, but some female friends challenged his perspective and forced him to reconfigure his focus to the destruction of patriarchy and white supremacy. Thus it is Udúpé who has the final say after she is asked how best to win a game and says, “Play with love. Play with pain.”

Patrice Johnson Chevannes, Jennifer Mogbock, and Kelley Curran
Mister Fitzgerald (center), Jennifer Mogbock,
Kelley Curran, Jason Bowen, and Michael Laurence

The complexity of the plot along with the Nigerian accents sometimes make the narration difficult to follow, but the expressive acting brings clarity to the emotional content of the story. The costuming (Linda Cho) is spectacular, at times literally occupying the entire stage, as are Tal Yarden’s sometimes trippy projections along with the ever-evolving lighting (Stacey Derosier), and layered scenic design (Riccardo Hernández) that carries us from a world of gods—rivers and skies that exist outside time and space—to the very time-bound location of basketball courts in 2009 and 2013, where a giant timer counts down the seconds.

Jason Bowen, Mister Fitzgerald, and Jennifer Mogbock
Jennifer Mogbock and Michael Laurence

photos by Lauren Miller

The Half-God of Rainfall
American Repertory Theater (A.R.T.)
a co-production with New York Theatre Workshop
Harvard University
Loeb Drama Center in Harvard Square, 64 Brattle St in Cambridge
ends on September 24, 2023
for tickets, visit A.R.T.

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