More About "We Are Proud..."
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
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.
More About "We Are Proud..."