The title “We Are Proud to Present a Presentation About the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as South West Africa, From the German Südwesafrika, Between the Years 1884-1915,” lets its audience know right off the bat that this is not going to be an easy show to take in.
The play depicts a group of six actors rehearsing a presentation that chronicles the early 20th century genocide of the Herero tribe by the German government. The characters wrestle with the stories they each want to elevate and the racial tension that arises between them as a result.
It was an excellent choice for the third installment of the Department of Theatre’s “Occupy Empathy” season, coinciding with Miami’s Diversity Week, and very timely as many countries are still reluctant to name genocides for what they are. It serves as a poignant reminder that the ramifications of the 20th century “Scramble for Africa” and colonialism are still being felt. The play also provokes a discussion on the loss of heritage that is still felt by Africans and African-Americans alike.
The show was surprisingly comedic, featuring actors beatboxing, bursting into song and humping the floor as they attempted to navigate the difficult subject matter. The cast hilariously portrayed exaggerated caricatures of themselves as college actors. All performers contributed to the almost overwhelming plausibility of their conversations on race and culture.
Shaun Diggs was brilliant in his especially challenging role as Actor 2/Black Man, causing the audience to freeze on multiple occasions as he pointed out the flaws in the German narrative of events. Taylor Hayes as Actor 5/Sarah was captivating and funny, managing to draw the audience’s eye in scenes when the entire cast talked over each other. Hayes belted “Edelweiss” and imitated a cow, while still building on the tension between the actors throughout the performance.
The technical aspects of this show were engaging and demonstrated a remarkable attention to detail. Each program included a ballot on which audience members could mark whether they found Germany guilty or not guilty, to place in a box in the lobby.
The final moments of the show were breathtaking and cathartic. When Actor 1/White Man, played astutely by Mario Formica, crossed the line of decency in rehearsal and pulled out a rope tied in a noose to taunt Digg’s character, who then stormed out of the theater, the audience was left in shock. Slowly, Keith Holland, playing Actor 4/Another Black Man, put away the cruelest props used (a gun, a mask and the noose), and then pulled aside the curtain backdrop to reveal mirrors that reflected the theatregoers’ horrified expressions. He thus ended the show with a powerful challenge for each audience member, provoking them into an examination of the way they view stories similar to the one they just witnessed.