Yes, that’s probably the longest show title you’ll ever see, but don’t let that deter you—it is by far the best performance I have seen all year long.
“We are proud to present…” centers around a group of performers putting together a presentation about an obscure genocide in 20th century Africa, namely the annihilation of a tribe called the Hereros by German colonialists in Namibia.
The play begins with 3 black actors and 3 white actors (my wonderful housemate Jamie included!) being themselves and giving a “lecture” on the history of Namibia. Their lack of knowledge on the subject matter becomes a source of humor and laughter, but also a source of frustration as these well-meaning actors soon realized how impossible it is to create an act that can truthfully illustrate the lives of the Hereros.
Throughout the play, we see the performers arguing over race, history and lost history, the meaning of performance and self-identification. Each tries to be truthful, but the only truth they can portray is that of their own personal story, which when presented only offends the others witnessing it. The context they have created—a region rife with the sort of violence they can barely make sense of—only alienates these actors further as they struggle in telling this remote story.
The most terrific and horrifying part of all this is that they keep going, telling one another to not stop even when it is obvious they want to do so.
And the price? A reenactment of a lynching.
With this realization, the stunned actors stop the play or rather their attempt at it. And the unsaid conclusion of their work together for the last 90 mins is that they have failed or that they didn’t have anything worthy to show. But for the audience member witnessing the process of it all, it was so worth seeing.
The choreography overall was visually powerful and thoughtful for a piece containing sensitive material. By integrating marching, hip hop, collective chants and hand clapping, director Pirronne Yousefzadehthe has made her piece visceral rather than simply intellectual.
The sound design was also fitting, incorporating Old Southern songs and ambiance sounds to not only quickly evoke feelings of pain, danger and horror, but to also identify for the audience when the performers transition from their “acting” to themselves or their personal dilemmas.
The best transition, however, occurred at the finale, when each actor one by one broke the fourth wall and then literally left the theatre room. They never came back so there was no applause to be had—only silence.
I was extremely moved after leaving the theatre myself and the big takeaway from the show is acknowledging that someone else’s experiences can be only felt herself and not by anyone else. No matter how hard you try imagining being in that other person’s shoes, it isn’t enough and neither is sympathy. As one actor points out, at the end of the day you have only “borrowed them; they ain’t yours honey.”
Seen at InterAct Theatre Company
Playwright: Jackie Sibblies Drury
Director: Pirronne Yousefzadeh