In “Mourning Sun,” a beautifully acted new play by Antu Yacob, two young teenagers in Ethiopia both love to sing and dance to Michael Jackson. The “sun” part of the title is clear from the get-go: Abdi, an orphan (Kevis Hillocks) is drawn to Biftu (Arlene Chico-Lugo), whose name means sun, and (although she won’t admit it), she welcomes his attentions. The mourning part unfolds quickly: Biftu is 14 years old when she’s forced to wed the son of the wealthiest man in the community, who hits her in her head with a rock in order to consummate their marriage. The rape and subsequent unsuccessful childbirth causes her permanent physical damage.
“Mourning Sun” is presented by Theater 167, a company whose mission is to present the myriad cultures of the world that converge in New York (specifically in Jackson Heights – the 167 is the number of languages reportedly spoken in that Queens neighborhood alone.) It is an “issue play” – dramatizing the increasing incidence of child marriage in Ethiopia (as in poor, rural communities around the world). It’s something of a medical drama, focusing on fistula, the condition that Biftu contracts. It’s a “foreign” play – it’s in three languages, including English. It’s an immigration play – Abdi is soon adopted by an American, and he eventually marries Biftu to rescue her and bring her to Harlem, where their adjustment is not pretty. It was also sometimes hard to follow completely, due both to language and leaps in the plotting. But, thanks to the direction by Ari Laura Kreith and the often brave acting of the seven-member cast, the play is not easily summed up or dismissed. Kevis Hillocks in particular is a stand out, his bright smile and winning dance moves as a teenager visibly disappearing as he grows into a young adult immigrant trying to find his way out of bitterness and back to love and joy. “Mourning Sun” winds up satisfying in surprising ways.
A Theater 167 production at at the West End Theatre in the Church of St. Paul & St. Andrew, 263 W. 86th St. NYC
Written by Antu Yacob
Directed by Ari Laura Kreith
Cast: Shamsuddin Abdul-Hamid, Arlene Chico-Lugo, Charles Everett, Fadoua Hanine, Kevis Hillocks, John P. Keller, Antu Yacob
Bo Frazier (Stage Manager), Jen Price Fick (Set Design), Matthew Fick (Lighting Design), and Jessa-Raye Court (Costume Design).
Running time: About two hours, including an intermission.
Mourning Sun is scheduled to run through December 6