When people think about the first female ruler of ancient Egypt (Khemet), they usually reference Cleopatra. Or even the classic beauty Queen Nefertiti.
But Cleopatra was not the first woman to be sovereign ruler of the empire, and playwright, author and filmmaker Esosa E. wants to bring the story of Hatshepsut (1507-1458 B.C.) to light in her one-woman show, “The Woman Who Would Be King.”
The title highlights what made this native Egyptian ruler so unique — she ruled as a Pharaoh, or king of Egypt, rather than as a queen or spouse of a pharaoh. Hatshepsut was the longest reigning female pharaoh in Egypt, ruling for 20 years in the 15th century B.C. She is considered one of Egypt’s most successful pharaohs.
Hatshepsut was the only child born to the King Thutmose I by his senior wife and queen, Ahmose. After the death of her father at age 12, Hatshepsut married her half-brother Thutmose II, who reigned for 15 years.
“Since as long as I can remember I have wanted to create a one-woman show,” says Esosa E., short for her last name, Edosomwan. “When I finally got up the nerve to do it, I knew I wanted to portray someone from ancient Egypt. I find it disturbing that major media portrayals of ancient Egypt consistently depict Egyptians as if they were not people of color when so much evidence exists to the contrary. So many Egyptian women we know and love are a bit overdone. I’ve always wanted to play Cleopatra in Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, and generally a lot of people know about Nefertiti.
“When I discovered Hatshepsut, I knew I had to tell her story, especially because she was almost completely erased from history,” she said. “Considering her accomplishments I felt called to tell her story and let the world know more about her.”
Esosa E. is no newcomer to theater and the arts. She has had roles in films (“Mother of George”) and television shows (“An African City”) and has also made short films. Her “50 Bucks in Argentina” was an official selection in the 2011 Cannes Film Festival Short Corner and won Best Short at the Nigerian Entertainment Film Festival.
The daughter of Nigerian immigrants to the United States, Esosa E. was born in New York and traveled around, living in New Jersey, California and ultimately landing in Virginia where she presently resides. Besides filmmaking and acting, she started her career as a fashion designer and model, which is evident in her show, where she plays 11 historical characters, only changing the draping of a scarf to indicate which character she is playing.
“I wrote the play in 2015, performed it first in South Africa in 2016 and this year brought it stateside,” she said.
The play debuted at the National Museum of African Art and then was featured on the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage in August.
“Before I started writing, I knew that I wanted to focus the story on imagining what her journey to the throne was like, so I focused on characters that would have been a major part of her development leading up to that point. Yes, all of the characters chosen were historical although there are still a lot of unanswered questions. For instance her lover, Senemut, many historians infer that he was her lover because there is a lot of evidence that points to a unique and strangely close relationship. So I took some creative license to fill in the gaps.”
Inspired by artists like Whoopi Goldberg, Anna Deveare Smith and Roger Guenveur Smith, whose works were featured on Broadway and beyond, Esosa E. has high hopes for “The Woman Who Would Be King.” She wants to take the show around the world, particularly to Africa, and the Public Theater in New York is on her “bucket list.”
“I’ve always been a fan of performers who can use their own lives to create one-person shows,” she said. “I am not vulnerable enough to do that, I love my privacy … but there’s so much of Hatshepsut that I felt drawn to, so I guess there is a deep kinship of sorts between me and who I imagine her to be.”
For now, she is enjoying the accolades from the Kennedy Center show, another venue she had hoped to play.
“The reactions to the show have been incredible,” she said. “After the show at the Kennedy Center, I had a woman tell me she was inspired to go run for a seat in Congress, and young girls and their parents tell me they felt empowered after watching the show.
“I was hoping the story would inspire and the responses have exceeded my expectations,” the statuesque beauty said. “I hope that it opens up discussion about women in power, and creating more opportunities for young girls to be groomed for power and have a seat at the table. More than ever, our world needs female leadership.”
“The Woman Who Would Be King” can be viewed on the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage webcasts (https://www.kennedy-center.org/video/index/M63389). For more information on Esosa E., visit her website, www.Esosae.com.