For F*ck’s Sake, It’s Not About White People: “We Are Proud to Present a Presentation about the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as Southwest Africa, from the German Sudwestafrika, Between the Years 1884-1915”

Presented by Company One Theatre and Arts Emerson
Written by Jackie Sibbles Drury
Directed by Summer L. Williams

January 10 – February 1, 2014
The Jackie Liebergott Black Box at the Emerson/Paramount Center
559 Washington St.
Boston, MA 02111
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Performance run from 90 to 100 minutes. There is no intermission.

Review by Kitty Drexel

(Boston) We Are Proud to Present a Presentation about the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as Southwest Africa, from the German Sudwestafrika, Between the Years 1884-1915 is a scripted, semi-interactive history lecture cum improv experiment dissecting the historical events of the German occupation of what is now Namibia. 6 actors attempt to reenact the experiences of German soldiers as they ousted the Herero tribe from their lands. It starts with a chipper cast playfully giving a lecture. As with much of history, it has a somber ending.

There is not much documentation left from the German occupation that accurately depicts what happened to the Herero. The German occupation of 1884 turned into an English occupation in 1915, which then became the apartheid of 1948. It is described as an African holocaust, a rehearsal for WWII. The Herero have a rich oral history tradition. Unfortunately, if Historians can’t see the evidence, it might as well not be true. So even though the Herero know what happened between 1884 and 1915, history pretends that it doesn’t.

We Are Proud to Present… is a difficult show to explain. It has a plot but it doesn’t. The plot abstraction ebbs and flows with the cast’s shared stream of consciousness. This may resemble the process playwright Jackie Sibbles Drury used to write this piece. Meta-theatrical devices such as improv games, song, and character development exercises used within the performance aid the audience as well as the cast in navigating the creative construct that could be described as “plot.”

There are moments when the actions on stage read like a well-timed cluster-fuck that resolve into synchronized chaos. The actors will appear scattered and the dialogue unscripted only to unfold with choreographed precision into organized scenes. Whether these moments are scripted or not is a testament to the talents of the ensemble and the direction of Summer L. Williams. In any less capable hands, the show would have been a mess.

We Are Proud to Present… is about the human experience as well as systematic oppression and race relations. It pushes a lot of non-PC buttons and some scenes are purposefully offensive. For example, Drury’s play focuses on the experiences of the Germans who occupied Namibia and brutalized the Herero. It only touches upon the experience of the Herero towards the end of the production. Drury uses these moments, as beautifully executed by Williams, to impress upon the audience that in order to understand what the Germans did we must understand who they were. The Germans weren’t soulless monsters; they were average people who loved, who considered themselves good and fair, who followed the teachings of Christ (among others). Drury spins this message to tell the audience that it too is capable of such behavior. Monsters don’t do terrible things. People do. When we allow ourselves to lose sight of our shared humanity, we all behave barbarically.

Drury’s We Are Proud to Present… educates by entertaining. It is an excellent show; the brilliant cast is empathetic to each other and their audience. Director Summer L. Williams weaves many layers of intention and critical thinking into an evenly paced, high energy performance. There are some gut-splittingly hilarious moments but the most significant moments are not intended to be pleasant. As told through the history of White people, it reveals the experience of POCs* everywhere, past and present.

As a White person, I am well aware that I and the other White audience members can go home and shake off the what we saw over a glass of wine. My wish is that by having seen this production, others will choose not to because POCs cannot and have not. Only if we work together can we attain true equality. Please accept your privilege and use it to help others.

*Person of Color

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