The beautiful thing about artistic expression is that it operates out of the box. The parameters of tradition or doing things a certain way automatically gets thrown out of the window. Actors are basically on their own to create and delve into their respective characters to deliver something the audience has never seen before or can embrace.
It is also a dilemma that challenges every scriptwriter or director face when they try coming up with a production that will embark their audience on a journey where it requires some sort of mind configuration in analyzing what they are about to see.
This is what you get when you take in the explosive, race-tinged stage play, “We Are Proud to Present a Presentation About the Herero of Nambia, Formerly Known as South West Africa, From the German Studwestafrika, Between the Years 1884-1915 (June 8-August 11),” playing at the Matrix Theatre in Los Angeles.
The creation of playwright Jackie Sibblies Drury, “We Are Proud… is the perfect antidote to historians and curious observers looking for the unusual and unexpected. The message of race, colonialism and genocide is well-delivered by a group of actors pushing the play to the root of authenticity.
It is a stage play that challenges the intellect as well as puts the audience on edge in recalling what is presumed to be the first genocide of the 20th century when armed forces from Germany decided to wipe out the Herero tribe in South West Africa.
The death toll counted as a result of that bloody massacre ranged in the tens of thousands. Nambia still remain affected today by that atrocity. Getting back to the play, “We Are Proud… brings together a group of actors who decide to offer their take on what transpired during the time period between 1884 and 1915.
Germany began its reign in 1884, ordered the execution of members of the Herero tribe in 1904. It wasn’t until eleven years later, when World War I broke out that the Germans’ treacherous regime lost its grip and finally came to a conclusion.
“We Are Proud… is a fascinating watch as this young group of thespians go through what they perceive as the right way in which the story is told. But an interesting thing happens along the way in their re-enactment of roles.
The further the actors dive into their roles the more they become joined at the hip with the character they are portraying, thus creating the troublesome quandary of being the part instead of acting it out. The further along the play’s plot goes the more self-absorbed the actors become in their characters.
Made up of six actors (three black, three white), the cast of “We Are Proud… brings home the issue of race in living color. While exploring the history of what took place in South West Africa, the actors soon find themselves engaging in stereotypes, recalling false premise about each other’s ethnicity, and clearly examining the role race played in that human destruction episode and how it plays out in today’s society.
“We Are Proud… is an intense and fierce presentation of race relations-then and now. Producer Joseph Stern does a magnificent job in taking Drury’s script to draw sharp parallels of the deeply-rooted racism in America to that of the race and humanity crimes perpetrated by the Germans.
The actors (Daniel Bess, Joe Holt, Phil LaMarr, Rebecca Mozo, John Sloan and Julanne Chidi Hill) all give credible and solid performances. As they question each other’s motives about how the story of Nambia should be told, each actor’s own personal prejudices began to manifest. This eventually leads to racial confrontations between the actors.
Bess and LaMarr gives the theatrical production the jolt it provides. But the delivery of the overall message that incorporates the performances of Hill, Sloan, Mozo and Holt is even more powerful. While the play has its funny moments, “We Are Proud… effectively makes us look at and re-examine our own racial beliefs with conviction.
It also let’s us know that history is a brutal and uncompromising reminder that the good and bad of humanity exists in all of us.