The mother country: New play tackles marriage, moms, and immigration

Mom knows best: In B. Nandi Jacob’s play “Mother-in-Law,” at the Black Lady Theatre on April 7, the title character schemes to break up her son’s upcoming marriage.
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She’s written a moving comedy!

A British-Trinidadian playwright will launch a heartwarming comedy about immigration and messy relationships this weekend. “Mother-in-Law,” opening at the Black Lady Theatre in Bedford-Stuyvesant on April 7, follows undocumented immigrant Petra as she prepares to marry her fiance Philo, only to face interference from her soon-to-be mother-in-law. Playwright B. Nandi Jacob said that she rewrote her main character several times in order to make her story more relevant to the current situation with Caribbean immigrants — a subject that is rarely joked about.

“She wasn’t always undocumented, but her story is very important to the community, and it raises the stakes about immigration,” said Jacob. “But I really want people to get a critical story and laugh. I thought it was important enough to highlight while laughing, because my creative arts is always surrounded with laughter and being able to find joy somehow.”

Set in a Brownsville apartment, the stage play contrasts the highly educated Petra with her fame-seeking fiance Philo, who Jacob describes as a glorified subway performer.

“This guy wants to be Soca star, and he sings on the 4 train and tosses his hat around for money,” she said.

Both are Trinidadian, but Petra’s immigration status comes with a lot of setbacks. And when she suspects that her not-quite mother-in-law is plotting to send her back to Trinidad, it puts a great deal of stress on her relationship with Philo, said Jacob.

“She is frustrated with him, because to him, his mom can do no wrong,” she said. “But as the plot unfolds, he has to make a choice.”

Jacob says mainstream news outlets focus on Mexican and South American immigrants, ignoring how black and Caribbean immigrants are also affected by the new restrictions, and that her play is a rare chance to learn about a story facing many in the Caribbean community.

“In the immigration struggle — we are literally absent from it, but this issue has always been in our community, especially for those who came here and are undocument­ed,” she said. “And now that immigration has tightened up, there are many undocumented immigrants who are impacted, and going through a marriage like Petra’s. For Caribbean people, there’s a lot of us who know so many stories like this, and my ultimate goal is to get that message out there — and make people laugh.”

“Mother-in-Law” at the Black Lady Theatre [750 Nostrand Ave. between Park and Sterling places in Bedford-Stuyvesant, (718) 771–0900,]. April 7 at 8 pm. $30.

Reach reporter Alexandra Simon at (718) 260–8310 or e-mail her at
Updated 5:46 pm, July 9, 2018
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