We Are Proud to Present…

WE ARE PROUD TO PRESENT A PRESENTATION ABOUT THE HERERO OF NAMiBIA, FORMERLY KNOWN AS SOUTH-WEST AFRICA, FROM THE GERMAN SUDWESTAFRIKA, BETWEEN THE YEARS 1884-1915

By Jackie Sibblies Drury

Directed by Eric Ting

At Victory Gardens Biograph Theater, Chicago

Tedious rehearsal-within-a-rehearsal sparks a riveting last 15 minutes.

With a 26 word title, Jackie Sibblies Drury’s new raw world premiere, show promises much but needs a more focused through line. The 95 minute one-act starts out as an awkward lecture about the Herero genocide in Namibia wherein six actors are gathered to “dramatize” the African tribal genocide by the Germans in the early 20th Century.

Using humor to depict the leaderless, unscripted and unfocused rehearsal by a troupe of three blacks and three white actors is a thin premise that quickly becomes tedious at best. Both playwright Jackie Sibblies Drury and director Eric Ting were befuddled by their attempts to dramatize an unknown but factual genocide of a black tribe (Herero) in Southwest Africa so they concocted a rehearsal scenario.

We Are Proud To present...

It sure stretches credulity as to why a group of actors would gather to try to figure out how to ‘play’ the principal characters without a script or an outline or a director. We never know who organized this convoluted gathering.

We Are Proud To present...

It was difficult for me to ‘buy’ this concept and the early scenes where several actors tried to ‘play-out’ letters from German soldiers stationed in Namibia to their wives back in Germany sure wore me out. The dark humor and obvious racial tones quickly reared up as one of the black men (Kamal Angelo Bolden) objected to the role playing that found white playing blacks.

We Are Proud To present...

That set the tone for the explosive last 15 minutes of this contrived work. Really, having actors improving a genocide is a stretch at best but when your real agenda is about how present day folks as reluctant to embrace change,  We Are Proud To Present turns into an internal struggle by each player.

If you can get over all the  early actor speak, rehearsal theatre games and the emotional racially-charged arguments, We Are Proud To Present demonstrates how out of control our struggles to change who and what we are. If you accept the riveting actions of the role playing during the last 15 minutes, the pent-up racial stereotypes take over the liberal-minded actors.

That is – if – you can get over the actor’s struggle to tell and move the story along. The leaderless troupe finds the black women (Tracey N. Bonner) trying to arbitrate, stimulate and focus the storytelling to mixed results. All the bickering, backstage humor  and role playing games eventually sets up the final powerful racially-charged final role playing game that becomes much too real.

By the time this happens much of the audience was so bored or annoyed by the rehearsal antics that the  shocking ending lost some of its impact. I’d advise a 2o minute trim with a tighter focus devoid of some of the acting exercises. There is a powerful drama ready to explode. You’d be hard pressed to find six stronger actors than Bernard Balbot, Kamal Angelo Bolden, Tracey N. Bonner, Jake Cohen, Leah Karpel and Travis Turner – as each had several telling moments wherein their theatrical skills shined brightly.

Recommended

Tom Williams

Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast

Date Reviewed: April 9, 2012

For more info checkout the We Are Proud to Present…page at theatreinchicago.com

At Victory Gardens Biograph Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago, IL, call 773-871-3000, www.victorygardens.org, tickets $20 – $50, Tuesdays thru Saturdays at 7:30 pm, Saturday matinees at 4 pm & Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 95 minutes without intermission, through April 29, 2012