D E B R A   A N N   B Y R D  -   F O U N D E R   &   P R O D U C I N G   A R T I S T I C   D I R E C T O R.

Reviewed By Shelia Benskin

Sunday, December 11, 2011 - 3pm




Run, Don’t Walk to See the Take Wing And Soar / New Heritage Theatre Group production of Rare Theater Magic, MASSINISSA And the Tragedy of the House of Thunder written and directed by Lorey Hayes.  An epic, historic, love story set in a time when ‘Africa ruled the world’.

          Audiences, often advised to go to the Theater to escape the mundane world, are thirsting for something “new”, refreshing and out of the ordinary and yet much of what we experience on stage these days has a familiarity and sameness that sends us home feeling somewhat unfulfilled.


For any theatergoer who has ever fallen into a theatergoing “rut”, “Massinissa and the Tragedy of the House of Thunder”, based on the true story of the Man Who Betrayed Hannibal to Rome 200 Years before the birth of Christ will renew their confidence in the “magic of theater”.  


Massinissa is a story about Love, Honor, Friendship, Family, Betrayal and Revenge, set in the lost nation of Carthage, Africa featuring brilliant performances and stunning production values.  I was mesmerized and spent most of the afternoon on the edge of my seat.


A rich, regal, royal, elegant play with outstanding direction by Lorey Hayes and superior production elements; your experience begins from the moment you step foot off the street into the beautifully appointed theater (one of the most beautiful and elegant spaces this reporter has seen in New York that rivals many Broadway houses). Once inside you are greeted with operatic music, wine served in glasses and friendly hosts and hostesses.  Escorted into the theater, you are transported to another time and era.  Leave the outside world behind.  One of the most delightful 2 hours and 10 minutes I have ever experienced in theater. The entire theater gives the feeling of being in orchestra of a meticulously appointed Broadway house.


This skillfully written, poetic play is a major accomplishment that rewards audiences with a rare glimpse into the secret lives of historic African and Roman heroes and heroines.  Hannibal Barca, renowned military genius who crossed the Alps with elephants to defeat Rome’s greatest generals (still considered the greatest military strategist of all times) is written as a loyal man, dedicated to state and country, whose priority is the salvation of his nation and the safety of his men.  Massinissa is the Numidian King who betrays Hannibal’s friendship to revenge the death of the woman he loves.  Both roles of Hannibal and Massinissa are fully rounded, multi-dimensional characters brilliantly portrayed.


Theater newcomer, Dayo Olatokun deftly plays the title role of Massinissa maneuvering  easily from  charming to

deadly to remorseful.  Hayes sets up Massinissa’s dilemma early on which makes us understand his need for revenge and the torment that drives him to betrayal. We fully embrace Massinissa’s journey and understand his erroneous choices.  Lodric D. Collins gives a strong, brave, compassionate, intelligent performance as Hannibal, bringing to life a multi-faceted heroic character imbuing him with human qualities that endear him to our hearts.


Massinissa and Sophonisba’s love story - the action that sets the play in motion - is touching and tragic, reminiscent of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet; with Massinissa being an outsider, not considered good enough to win the hand of Carthage’s royal daughter. Sophonisba, the woman whose love topples a nation, is played by Anja Lee who plays with just the right delicious mix of grace, charm, sweetness and strength.  


Expert casting by Sara Koch Casting and TWAS Casting with consultation by Lawrence Evans creates an Ensemble that delivers a powerful piece of theater. There are many brilliant moments in the play. One of the most poignant and heartbreaking is Dido’s Act I monologue where she recounts sacrificing her daughters to the gods to assure Carthage success in battle played with perfection by Dianne Dixon.  Michael Raimondi touches the heart as Scipio The Younger (Scipio Africanus) having his first experience on the battlefield, witnessing the death of his father.  Hasdrubal, Hannibal’s brother, played with humor and charm by Tino Christopher, sears the memory in his jail scene with Massinissa who delivers the line that sums up the theme of the play: “I too am African.  Were we not meant to be brothers?”  


I would be remiss not to mention Scipio The Elder’s (played by Dennis Jordan) powerful speech to his troops or Massinissa and Sophonisba’s heart shattering; “They will not pardon me” scene in Act II where Sophonisba learns her fate that will set their course of history.


It is truly an outstanding ensemble with each performer passionately embodying his or her characters: Elijah Black as Hamilcar, Hannibal’s father, Lawrence Winslow as Tyre  Barca,  Hannibal’s Uncle  and  Sophonisba’s father,    Natasha    Yannacadeo    as    Imile,




Hannibal’s wife, Bryant Carroll as The Royal Consul, Philip De La Cal as Flaminius, Kirt Harding as King Syphax, Phillip Burke as Bera, with additional performances by  Stacey J. Dotson, Tom Martin and Treasure Davidson, all who had strong featured moments and helped to make a memorable evening of theater which proved the adage “there are no small parts”.


I urge you to run; don’t walk to the theater to purchase tickets.  The play only runs through December 18th.  This is one play you will not want to miss. This inspiring, enlightening play makes for the perfect Christmas gift to give your friends and family.  Put aside the shopping for a few moments and escape from New York into a different world.


Massinissa’s bold, bodacious epic tale, brilliantly acted and expertly written and directed by Lorey Hayes (an original cast member of For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf by Ntozake Shange) is rare theatrical magic perfect for Theater lovers, historians and anyone who appreciates art ready to witness a mesmerizing transcendent experience.


Featuring: Elijah Black, Phillip Burke, Debra Ann Byrd, Bryant Carroll, Tino Christopher, Lodric D. Collins, Philip De La Cal, Treasure Davidson, Diane Dixon, Stacey J. Dotson, Micah Fraser, Kirt A Harding, Dennis Jordan, Anja Lee, Tom Martin, Dayo Olatokun, Michael Raimondi, Brendan Sokler, Lawrence Winslow, Natasha Yannacanedo with Scenic Design: Chris Cumberbach; Costume Design: Gail Cooper Hecht; Lighting Design: James Carter; Sound Design: David D. Wright; and Choreography: Philip De La Cal.


Presented by Debra Ann Byrd’s Classical Theater Company Take Wing and Soar Productions in collaboration with Voza Rivers’ New Heritage Theater Group at The Poet’s Den Theater 309 East 108th Street East Harlem, NY between 1st and 2nd Avenues.  December 7-18th,, 2011.  


Variable Schedule visit www.takewingandsoar.org or call (212) 352-3101 for tickets.


Reviewed by Shelia Benskin

Email: [email protected]  



Lodric Collins (Hannibal) Michael Raimondi (Scipio Africanus) Philip Burke (Bera) and Dayo Olakotun (Massinissa). Photo Hubert Williams.