In the fullness of empire

A new play explores the pain of returning home

by Greg Corradini

It’s 1981, and Carlyle Brown is as Afro-centric as the next guy. That’s his problem.

Brown is a black man living in an America he considers his illegitimate home. For him, Africa is the motherland he mythologizes and identifies with.

When he imagines this magical place, a white man in a loincloth, named Tarzan, pops into his head.

To counter this rude reminder of a more nefarious enslavement, Brown travels to West Africa to right his wrong interpretations and discover his heritage.

The bold recounting of that trip is Brown’s one-man show, “The Fula from America.”

Brown has written a tremendous narrative in a theatrical style that always threatens audiences’ attention span.

Instead of props and countless characters, Brown must exhibit all features of this play at once. The audience finds him deftly switching between West African accents, American characters and the narrator’s voice.

But, Brown’s achievement really comes down to the sheer strength of his storytelling skills – his ability to stitch narratives together.

Many scenes simmer in poetic reflection before overflowing into descriptive rants or comedic jolts.

In one, Brown waits a whole day for a bus to depart toward Guinea. When it doesn’t depart, he throws a tantrum.

The locals, utterly confused, attempt to appease the American with Coca-Cola and Marlboros, thinking a lack of product consumption was the cause of his distress.

Beyond the colonial influences and civil wars that Brown successfully recounts in “The Fula from America,” he manages to strike at the core issues that surround ethnic and national identity.

“The Fula from America: An African Journey”
When: 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday through Oct. 24
Where: Center for Independent Artists, 4137 S. Bloomington Ave, Minneapolis
Cost: $12-$15
Contact: (612) 724-8392