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Stage Happenings
review by Dale Reynolds

Theatre comes in a wide variety of styles and views. An unorthodox one is now on display at the adventurous Matrix Theatre in West Hollywood: “We are Proud” is a shortened version of the very long title to be read above. Six actors in a company, three white/three black, are putting together a lecture/demonstration/history play about German hostilities to the Herero Tribe of Namibia, earlier called Sudwestafrica, then Southwest Africa after 1915 when the British conquered the land.

So far, so understandable: in order to create Germany-in-Africa, the native tribes, especially the Herero, must be not just subdued, but essentially eradicated – a rehearsal of sorts to the attempted eradication of Jews, Gypsies and Homosexuals a half-century later. So, we get it: terrible atrocities which wiped out 80% of the indigenous peoples of the area. But what playwright Jackie Sibblies Drury is more interested in exploring is the nature of African-American/ European-American conflicts today. Specifically developed in the integrated theatre she apparently knows intimately, her valuable play is how we get up close and personal.

Her characters are given generic names: Black Woman (Julanne Chidi Hill), White Man (John Sloan), Black Man (Joe Holt), Another White Man (Daniel Bess), Another Black Man (Phil LaMarr), and Sarah, The White Woman (Rebecca Mozo), the six-actor ensemble explores the delicate battleground between Whites and Blacks in our country today. For the three black actors in the play, the racism and attempted exterminations are crystal clear; to the three white actors in the play, it’s more nuanced, and as the other three company members keep making clear: you aren’t us; you don’t know what background we bring to this production.

Drury lays it out carefully, with Black Woman self-designating herself as director/writer, spelling out the various characters’ position: lonely German guard, wife back home in Germany, slave, freedom-fighter. The white actors want to talk about it. The others want to act it out. Both are right, but lack of listening (among other problems) exacerbates the underlying dynamics, leading to a formal split along racial lines.

What she has done here is brave indeed: actors, who are notoriously liberal in their racial, sexual and religious relationships, are shown to be frightened, inarticulate, messy peoples. And, as a result, we have a tremendous piece of agit-prop that carefully explore the tensions and fault-lines of our earthquake-prone profession. Trust it, you have never seen this play before – in any guise – and that makes it thoroughly exciting.

Producer Joe Stern and director Jillian Armenante have allowed their small cast free-rein to explore these tensions. All of them are up to the task and Hill, Sloan, Holt, Bess, LaMarr and Mozo are extraordinary in their work. The play was developed at the Bay Area Playwriting Festival, Magic Theater’s Virgin Play Reading Series, and Victory Garden Theatre’s Ignition Festival, and at less than 90 minutes, it’s an amazing theatrical journey and will be appreciated by all who see it.

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