THOUGHTS: We Are Proud to Present….

Proud to Present - Colonialism

L to R: White Man (Lucas Hatton), Sarah (Megan Trout), Another Black Man (Rotimi Agbabiaka) and Black Man (David Moore) illustrate the history of the Herero under German colonial rule.
Credit: Cheshire Isaacs

It was only last month that I was watching a play set in India in the 1930s written by a white Brit and directed by a white American. This makes We Are Proud to Present… all the more timely.

The premise of We Are Proud to Present…is straightforward: six actors, three black and three white, come together as an ensemble to create a piece of theater centered around the genocide of the Herero tribe of Namibia by German colonists at the turn of the century. The audience bears witness to both the creation process in the rehearsal room, and snippets of the presentation itself.

Watching this play was like peeling off layers of an onion. On the surface, it seems like the play is about how an ensemble creates a piece of theater and the different roles that each ensemble member seems to play: the leading man, the sidekick, the actor who has to physicalize everything in order to get into character, the actor who puts themselves in charge etc.

As the play goes on and the characters really start to look at the material they’re producing, we are asked to consider who gets to tell the story of the genocide. Is it the white actors (Lucas Hatton, Patrick Kelly Jones, and Megan Trout), reading the letters of German soldiers who may or may not be reliable narrators, or is it the black actors (David Moore, Rotimi Agbabiaka, and Kehinde Koyejo) imagining the struggle of the Herero people?

Getting even deeper into the action, we start to question whether this play is really about the Herero genocide, or whether there are larger issues at work.

Proud to Present - Herero Woman

Black Woman (Kehinde Koyejo in foreground) listens to a letter from Black Man (David Moore in background)
Credit: Cheshire Isaacs

Through all of this, Molly Aaronson-Gelb’s direction has the actors move between the seating and the stage, forcing the audience to engage with the material in the same way they are.

Jackie Sibblies-Drury has written a play that is both witty and challenging. There were moments where I laughed in recognition at the actor tropes, and moments were I felt as uncomfortable as some of the characters looked. Looking out at the rest of the audience, I found myself considering what it meant to be an actor of color in a majority white space, and wondering whether the white friend I’d come with was okay with the subject matter. But in America, talking about race as blatantly as the characters do is uncomfortable and challenging, and desperately needed. I highly recommend seeing this play.

Reasons to go:

  1. This non-traditional show asks the hard questions, especially in the context of recent conversations about brutality in America
  2. Brave and deeply personal performances from the six actors
  3. You will find yourself coming back to the play’s themes over and over

Who should go: Adults

Tips:

  1. Go to the bathroom beforehand, there is no intermission and you will not be let back in if you leave
  2. See if you can get a seat in one of the front rows to give you the most immersive experience

Themes: Race, genocide, colonialism

Advisories: Racial slurs, violence

Show information: via Just Theater’s website 

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