PlayMakers Repertory Company’s production of Jackie Sibblies Drury’s provocative 2012 play, We Are Proud to Present a Presentation About the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as South West Africa, from the German Südwestafrika, Between the Years 1884-1915, is about perspective. As we go about our daily lives, we sometimes forget about our perspective, and how other people’s experiences can be so different from our own — how some live surrounded by violence and fear daily, while others — even in relative safety and privilege — can still be subject to subtle and not-so-subtle violence. Our perspective rarely shifts, unless it’s forced to or given the opportunity to, and that’s where theater lives.
Theater has the ability to make us confront our perspectives like no other art form. Great theater not only entertains, but it takes that state of enjoyment and seamlessly brings you to an important examination of the human experience — most importantly, the experience of people whose stories are told far too infrequently. Great theater takes not only the harmony of a solid team of actors, but sensitive direction, a creatively sharp production crew, and a smartly written, timely script.
We Are Proud to Present … is an example of how theater can be all of these things. It is not just a history lesson about the Herero people. It seamlessly begins as the audience is still settling. After all, the show is about a troupe of actors who are practicing for a presentation on a very important but harrowing topic: Germany’s colonization of Namibia and the Herero genocide that resulted between 1884 and 1915.
The acting troupe — Myles Bullock , Carey Cox, Nathaniel Kent, Schuyler Scott Mastain, Genesis Oliver, and Caroline Strange — is still working through the bugs of said presentation, which leads to delightful moments, especially a unifying laugh at the familiar joys of PowerPoint. Each actor shines with a nuanced characterization; and by the time the lights finally dim in the house, we feel like we know this group of friends and their dedication to telling the truth about history.
Each performance is unique and convincing in its different struggles with the telling of this story, which creates a sense of comfort and familiarity that draws you in to the troupe’s rehearsal process. This is a solid team of performers, which is absolutely critical for any show, but especially to one with such a mission.
The opening of the play itself is cleverly dotted with actor’s- process jokes, and lighthearted, joyful humor found in the act of discovering and performing. The brilliance of the script lies in the tension between the actors and the telling of the story — tension that builds over the course of the play.
Jackie Sibblies Drury’s play deftly introduces these actors, making us examine their feelings to each other and our feelings towards them. When things slowly shift, it’s this empathy that will make the climax all the more personal. This slow escalation shines a light directly on the privilege of having one perspective being widely accepted while other voices and experiences are silenced and eliminated. It disarms defenses that rise during this most important discussion.
The playwright’s intention is to give us, her audience, these real situations, these realistic, familiar contemporary characters, and allow us to draw our own conclusions from what we witness. The excellent direction of Desdemona Chiang, who previously directed 4000 Miles for PlayMakers in 2015 and worked on PlayMakers Rep’s production of The Making of a King: Henry IV & V in 2012, creates a seamless transition from calm to emotionally challenging, and shows through the punctuated action and fluid dance that the actors perform as they are edged back into the narrative of history again and again. Moments of silence echo powerfully, allowing the audience to react and take in the action.
Music and rhythms are another unexpected and transformative addition to this PlayMakers‘ presentation. The inspired and timely #TrapCover of Edelweiss is worth the price of admission alone. The lighting design by Porsche McGovern is a critical element to the production’s pacing and heightens the emotional impact. The lights pull us in and out of the narrative of the play being devised right before our eyes.
The set itself is sparse and utilitarian, like an excellent rehearsal room. Junghyun Georgia Lee’s scenic work, which we saw in The Mountaintop at PlayMakers in 2013, is powerful in its minimalistic realism. It transforms the thrust stage of the Paul Green Theatre from a rehearsal hall to an occupied Herero village in a horrifyingly simplistic way.
In true PlayMakers‘ style, every inch is considered and allows this new play to do the work that it’s meant to do. But I cannot recommend this experience enough for everyone. There is an age suggestion of 16+ for some adult language, and for the violence inherent in talking about historical and contemporary racism.
For some, this play will be challenging, eye-opening. To some, it will be affirming of their experience and their perspective. To all, it is an important examination of the darkness that lurks in all of us as humans. We Are Proud to Present … is a powerful, timely new play, with a successful execution by a stellar cast and crew. It is not to be missed.
SECOND OPINION: March 2nd Durham, NC Indy Week interview with director Desdemona Chiang, conducted by Caitlin Wells: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/theater-director-desdemona-chiang-holds-up-a-mirror-not-a-moral-for-white-america/Content?oid=4998112 and Feb. 24th mini-preview by Byron Woods: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/we-are-proud-to-present-a-presentation-about-the-herero-of-namibia-formerly-known-as-south-west-africa-from-the-german-sudwest-between-the/Event?oid=4803436; and Feb. 29th Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article63149942.html; Feb. 28th Chapel Hill, NC Daily Tar Heel (student newspaper) review by Morgan Howard: http://www.dailytarheel.com/blog/canvas/2016/02/we-are-proud-review and Feb. 23rd preview by Carina McDermed: http://www.dailytarheel.com/article/2016/02/playmakers-brings-race-to-forefront-in-latest-play; Feb. 13th Chapel Hill, NC Chapelboro.com interview with director Desdemona Chiang, conducted by Aaron Keck: http://chapelboro.com/news/arts/playmakers-proud-to-present-proud-to-present. (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the Feb. 22nd Triangle Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2016/02/in-we-are-proud-to-present-a-play-about-african-genocide-forces-the-actors-to-confront-racism/.)
PlayMakers Repertory Company presents WE ARE PROUD TO PRESENT A PRESENTATION ABOUT THE HERERO OF NAMIBIA, FORMERLY KNOWN AS SOUTH WEST AFRICA, FROM THE GERMAN SÜDWESTAFRIKA, BETWEEN THE YEARS 1884-1915 at 7:30 p.m. March 2-4; 2 and 7:30 p.m. March 5; 2 p.m. March 6; 7:30 p.m. March 8-12; and 2 p.m. March 13 in the Paul Green Theatre in the Center for Dramatic Art, 120 Country Club Rd., Chapel Hill, NC 27514, on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus.
TICKETS: $15 and up ($10 UNC students and $12 other college students), with discounts for UNC faculty and staff and U.S. military personnel, except $15 (general admission) Tuesday Community Night performances.
BOX OFFICE: 919-962-PLAY, firstname.lastname@example.org, or http://www.playmakersrep.org/tickets/single.
GROUP RATES (15+ tickets): 919-962-PLAY (7529), email@example.com, or http://www.playmakersrep.org/tickets/groupsales.
PRC NEWS RELEASE: https://playmakersrep.org/press/we-are-proud-to-present-starts-feb-24-at-PlayMakers/.
PRESENTER: http://www.playmakersrep.org/, https://www.facebook.com/playmakersrep, https://twitter.com/playmakersrep, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PlayMakers_Repertory_Company, and http://www.youtube.com/user/PlayMakersRep.
PRC BLOG (Page to Stage): http://playmakersrep.blogspot.com/.
NOTE 1: All shows are wheelchair accessible, and assistive-listening devices will be available at all performances.
NOTE 2: There will be an Open Captioning Performance at 2 p.m. on Saturday, March 5th (for more information, click http://playmakersrep.org/outreach/allaccess/opencaption).
NOTE 3: There will be a FREE post-show discussion with members of the cast and creative team following the show’s 2 p.m. Sunday, March 6th, performance.
NOTE 4: The Lucy Daniels Foundation and the North Carolina Psychoanalytic Society will sponsor FREE post-show “Mindplay” discussion — led by David Smith, MD — after the 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 12th, and 2 p.m. Sunday, March 13th, performances.
We Are Proud to Present a Presentation About the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as South West Africa, from the German Südwestafrika, Between the Years 1884-1915 (2012 Chicago and New York play): http://www.dramaticpublishing.com/p3819/We-Are-Proud-to-Present-a-Presentation-About-the-Herero-of-Namibia,-Formerly-Known-as-South-West-Africa,-From-the-German-S%C3%BCdwestafrika,-Between-the-Years-1884%E2%80%931915/product_info.html (Dramatic Publishing) and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/We_Are_Proud_to_Present_a_Presentation_About_the_Herero_of_Namibia,_Formerly_Known_as_Southwest_Africa,_From_the_German_Sudwestafrika,_Between_the_Years_1884%E2%80%931915 (Wikipedia).
The Script: https://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
Jackie Sibblies Drury (Brooklyn-based playwright): http://www.aoiagency.com/jackie-sibblies-drury/ (AO International Agency), http://lortel.org/Archives/CreditableEntity/47151 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jackie_Sibblies_Drury (Wikipedia).
Desdemona Chiang (Seattle/San Francisco-based PRC guest director): http://www.desdemona.org/blog/ (official website), http://playmakersrep.org/artists/desdemona-chiang/ (PRC bio) https://www.facebook.com/deschiang (Facebook page), and https://twitter.com/deschiang (Twitter page).
Diana Cameron McQueen of Raleigh, NC is an actor working in the Triangle area and beyond. She is a lifelong theatergoer, which she credits as her real theater education. She is an alumna of Enloe High School in Raleigh and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG). After returning to Raleigh in 2012, she debuted as an actor in the area. McQueen is mostly known for her performances as Vanda in Venus in Fur (2015) at Raleigh Little Theatre and as Queen Elizabeth I in The Lost Colony (2013-14) in Manteo, NC; and she most recently starred as Louise in The Underpants at Theatre in the Park in Raleigh. She’s passionate about and advocates for diversity and representation in media. McQueen lives with two very lovable cats, Odin and Aurelia. Click here to read her reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.