Dear Sarah… What a lovely leitmotif for a play about genocide. It humanizes the perpetrators, which is OK I suppose. They are, after all, human. Young, for the most part, somewhat naïve, just following orders. Sarah is the mythical girl back home, waiting for that German soldier who faithfully sends letters.
Welcome to South West Africa (now Namibia), and Jackie Sibblies Drury’s play We Are Proud To Present A Presentation About the Herero of Namibia, Formerly known as South West Africa, from the German Sudwestafrika, Between the Years 1884-1915. The play is onstage now at Artists Repertory Theatre, and runs through April 10.
Six actors, three black and three white, wander a stage, their only props black painted boxes in different sizes. They are going to give a presentation about an event that happened more than 100 years ago, and Actor 6/Black Woman (Chantal DeGroat) is attempting to organize everyone to this end. Actor 5/Sarah (Rebecca Ridenour) is intent on singing her song. There is good-humored badinage between the men, who jockey for their places in an ill-defined hierarchy. Actor 6 doesn’t seem to know what she’s doing and, bottom line, everyone wants to tell the story their way. Never mind that none of them quite knows the story.
We learn it as this play within a play unfolds. And as a horrible history is revealed, the actors move, under masterful direction by Kevin Jones, from outrage and disbelief into a different reality. It is disturbing content, both for the actors in the play and for the audience. But there is no polite way to tell a story about genocide, even an unknown genocide. And as things progress, each player not only re-enacts a historic event, but moves ever closer to his or her own personal heart of darkness.
James Baldwin once said, “Artists are here to disturb the peace.” When you sign on to see this play, be prepared for your peace to be disturbed. It’s well worth it.