Jocelyn Bioh’s ‘Nollywood Dreams’ is a date night, ‘culture-lite’ good time

Ghanaian-American writer Jocelyn Bioh’s ‘Nollywood Dreams’ offers a light comedy with just enough messy romance to keep it lively is onstage at freeFall Theatre, 6099 Central Ave. through May 12.

BY J.A. JONES | Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG — Ghanaian-American writer Jocelyn Bioh’s “Nollywood Dreams,” which is playing through May 12 at freeFall Theatre, 6099 Central Ave., offers a light comedy with just enough messy romance to keep it lively, using the backdrop of “Nollywood” (Nigeria + Hollywood).

Bioh inserts enough cultural insight into a more modern Nigeria to make it feel authentic without slowing down the laughs. She wryly incorporates the term “Nollywood,” a phrase that became popular in the 1990s to compare the country’s burgeoning independent film industry with that of America’s “Lala Land” — the movie capital of the world.

Bioh’s play is set in the 90s, when a new wave of Nigerian filmmakers spewed dozens of movies depicting their modern-day experiences as national television personalities gained popularity, investigating the off-screen lives of the industry’s famous actors.

Director Erica Sutherlin is masterful at moving a work across any stage she comes to. With the video screens that are a new addition to freeFall’s black box theater, she freely inserts commercials and media moments evoking the nostalgic feel of 90s Nigeria.

Audiences will laugh at familiar cultural tropes that sometimes feel a little too familiar. Still, with the quick-paced action, we don’t have much time to worry over any questionable references. Bioh pulls on our heartstrings while still keeping the characters’ humanity and humor intact.

The actors Fahnlohnee Reeves as ingenue Ayamma and Hillary Scales as her star-struck sister Dede, Clinton C.H. Harris as struggling director Gbenga, Milton Lyles as heartthrob lead Wale, and Shelby Ronea as a delightfully catty, if tragic, aging beauty, all act their hearts’ off, raising a sometimes-predictable plot into high-energy comedy. Andresia Moseley is especially enjoyable as the gossipy talk show host Adenikeh.

With a set and video designed by Eric Davis and lights by Trenten Szabo, the audience is successfully catapulted between a studio office to a talk show television set and back to the living room without missing a beat. Costume designer Jordan M. Jeffers keeps the audience eager to see what colorful glory the fashionable Adenikeh will appear in next.

The hard-hitting ensemble and brilliant direction result in an one hour and 40-minute play that feels like half the time – which is good since there is no intermission. But it seemingly wasn’t missed – not one audience member left to use the bathroom throughout the evening, which says quite a lot.

This is a definite night in the theatre that will leave you feeling satisfied; if laughter is good for the soul, there’s without a doubt enough to go around in “Nollywood Dreams.” This one is for the girlfriends’ get-together, the brothers looking to laugh, and that date night that takes it up a notch from the regular. It’s a winner!

“Nollywood Dreams” onstage at freeFall Theatre, 6099 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, through May 12. For tickets, call (727) 498-5205 or visit

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