REVIEWSTheatre ReviewsTom Williams

Sister Africa

A World Premiere.

By Stephanie Liss.

Directed by Elayne LaTraunik.

Produced by Genesis Theatrical Productions.

At the Athenaeum Theatre, Chicago.

Major sound problems deals fatal blow to powerful drama.

You would think that a veteran  director like Elayne LaTraunik. would, during tech, notice that her actors were simply speaking much too soft to be heard? With a humming of a exhust fan and the strumming of a guitar in a space at the Athenaeum Theatre that has well-know acrostical problems, you’d expect this director to tell her players “louder, louder.” But that was not the case for the press opening of Stephanie Liss’ riveting account of her visit to the Congo in the 1990’s during the genocide of woman and children by ‘boy soldiers.’ She was in the Congo as a representative of a Jewish organization call Jewish World Watch, dedicated to spotting and reporting on genocide.

Unfortunately, most of  the audience couldn’t hear 75% of the  spoken word. This was a fatal blow to the production. If audiences can’t hear the actors, the powerful impact of the narrative gets lost. That was the case here. (Just to make sure that  it wasn’t only me, sitting on aisle in the 3rd row, I asked other audience members, one istting on the aisle in the second row and one sitting in the first row and ultimately, a couple sitting in the far reaches of Studio One, if they had problems hearing the actors.  Her are there replies: those on the first two rows reported that they  had SOME trouble hearing the woman, especially Melissa Nelson, who was so low in volume thast 90% of her words were unintelligible. The couple in the back row reported that they couldn’t hear either woman and ,at times, the men were too soft with their words. Unfortunately, Ahmed Brooks, as Amani, using an authentic African accent became unintelligible during her monologue depicting her rape and torture, She was abour 60% too soft.

The inability of most of the audience to hear the speeches, kills this show adding another tragedy to this horrific account of genocide.  It got so bad, I was thinkg about shouting out “Louder, Louder” after Malessa Nelson’s first few weak opening monologue. After the continued inabliityto hear most of this drama, I became frustrated and ultimately irritated. This story deserves better. (I’m waiting to  see how many other reviewers mention the low volume?) Audiences need to kow that they may have trouble hearing a play. This problem is simple to correct: make the actors speak louder. Let’s hope the stsge manager tells them to project, to speak louder, especcially during emotional scenes.  Until the weak volume is corrected, Sister Africa is not stage worthy.

Not Recommended.

Tom Williams.

At the Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport, Chicago, IL, call 773-935-6875, tickets $32, students 7 seniors $17, Thursdays, Fridays, & Saturdays at 7:30 pm,  Sundays at3 pm, running time is 80 minutes with no intermission.