My Heart Is the Drum at Village Theatre

Welcome to Ghana! Here, in a traditional village, Efua, an especially bright young girl, longs to continue school so she can become a teacher. Her father has other ideas. She will marry a local boy and work on the family farm.

Instead, she sneaks away in the middle of the night with her best friend. Off to Accra, the nation’s capital, she goes determined to study for her teacher’s license. Of course it doesn’t work out that way. If you have preconceived notions about peasant life and women’s role in developing nations, those ideas will be reinforced in this overly long production.

Efua, well played by Claudine Mboligikpelani Nako, is the country innocent lured into a high-class house of prostitution. The accepted truth in the year 2000, when this story takes place, is that intercourse with a virgin will cure AIDS. Wealthy men who have contracted the disease are willing to pay exorbitant prices for virgin partners, hence Efua is a valuable commodity. This musical has much to say to anyone concerned with women victims wherever they are.

Director Schele Williams fills the stage with the rhythms of Africa and impressions of its landscape. What the production does well is evoke the savannah environment. Carey Wong’s scenic design combines with Aaron Copp’s lighting to create magnificent visual images. One massive tree, a baobab perhaps, dominates many of the scenes. It’s a splendid evocation, especially when the stage is bathed in Copp’s elegant shifting pastel shades.

The orchestra under the direction of Christopher D. Littlefield reinforces that setting with its take on the afrobeat popularized by the Nigerian pop singer Fela Kuti. But too much of a good thing is just . . . well too much.

In the 1976 film “The Harder They Come,” Jimmy Cliff, Jamaican reggae star, wowed audiences as the poor but talented country boy who moved to the big city where, of course, he was immediately victimized. That’s an old story, but in that brilliant film, it was told with a new face. Efua’s story isn’t in the same league. The only thing new about this story is the African setting.

Through April 24 at Francis J. Gaudette Theatre, 303 Front St. N., Issaquah, 425 392-2202, and April 29 – May 22 at Everett Performing Arts Center, 2710 Wetmore Ave., Everett, 425 257-8600 or villagetheatre.org.

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