Tales from The O'Neill: Goddess Casts a Spell of Music

By Sophia Saifi
16 Jul 2013

Jonathan Burke and Britney Coleman
Photo by A.Vincent Scarano
From the very first song, any cliche about modern-day Africa is dispelled. The writers have taken tropes of the so-called "dark" continent and mocked and subverted them. The Africa in Goddess is new and brilliant and traditions proudly walk hand-in-hand with modernity.

The inspiration for Goddess was found in Zulu folklorist Vusamazulu Credo Mutwa's book "Indaba My Children: African Folktales." Mabija calls it his "Bible" and he explained the importance of juxtaposing the modern ideas with ancient rituals.

"We didn't want people to think that Africa is loin clothes and wild animals. We want them to see that Africa today is very hip and very happening," he said.

Ali and Mabija had been working on Goddess before Thurber was involved. Ali was in New York while Mabija was based in South Africa, so they held meetings at odd hours online to perfect the script. Thurber was a friend of Ali's, and he was invited to a reading for his opinion.

"I had invited Mike as a friend to come and listen to it and give his opinion and see what he thought," said Ali. "Mike came to that very small, very informal reading and that night he called me and was like, 'Sai, I hear the music.'"

The music is luscious and pulsates through the three-hour extraveganza.

Thurber said the appeal of Goddess is universal. "The show deals with themes that are so human, although America is so different from Africa. Those themes of tradition and the idea of having parents who want you to do something and you wanting to do something else. Falling in love with the wrong person. These are things that could happen to anybody."

The cast of Goddess includes Larry Powell, Jonathan Burke, Mark Damon Johnson, Kimberly Hébert Gregory, Britney Coleman, Karan Kendrick, Forest VanDyke, Shaleah Adkisson, Allison Blackwell and Cedric Cannon. The music direction is by John DiPinto.