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 may not be the first play to prove meta. However, it is most likely the first to intertwine a focus on a group of actors with the history of German colonization in Namibia. This unique choice of topic certainly proves one worth exploring.
We Are Proud to Present, by Jackie Sibblies Drury and directed by Kimmy Golding ’16, runs from Thursday to Saturday in the Adams Memorial Theatre (AMT) at the ’62 Center for Theatre and Dance.
“I think this play touches on themes people in this country and on this campus are struggling to understand (such as racism, representation, violence against people of color and the politics of storytelling), which is why I feel it is so important to put it on,” Golding said.
The audience enters as “The Worst Guys” by Childish Gambino featuring Chance the Rapper reverberates through the AMT. The viewer immediately notices that most of the set is constructed on the floor in front of the first row of seats, rather than on the stage. This foreshadows how most of the play takes place on the floor, which provides the viewer with a sense of intimacy and informality. On the floor are a couple of chairs, a few tables and a blackboard holding some posters, while on the stage there are just two ladders. As the characters enter, they sit in the chairs reading or looking at their computers, occasionally getting up to quietly talk with each other. The music transitions to “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” by The Beatles. Finally, the play begins, as it is revealed that those on stage are actors and will be making a presentation about the Herero people of Namibia, in the ’62 Center, led by the group’s artistic director, played by Merudjina Normile ’19.
As the viewer comes to see, the group is quite far from settling on a final version of their presentation, and the play focuses on the actors’ struggle in doing so during their rehearsal. At first, the presentation is intended to mainly focus on the reading of letters of German soldiers from Southwest Africa. However, one of the actors, played by Venson Williams ’16, initially challenges this structure, enabling further problems with the presentation to emerge.
At times, issues with the presentation are minor and humorous. However, many of the issues deal with how to depict the genocide in Southwest Africa from the Herero perspective, even though written accounts of Southwest Africa only come from German sources: the soldiers’ letters. Incidents like these are the source of arguments between the actors, particularly along racial lines, which serve to examine the issue of race in the United States today. The conflict in Southwest Africa between the Herero and the Germans provides an additional lens to examine current race dynamics. Overall, the concept of race is central to both the presentation and the play itself; the play intends to engage the audience’s notions of race.
“In a lot of traditional theater, audience members are meant to be spectators, asked to observe action playing out in front of them, but rarely implicated in the consequences of said actions,” Golding said. “This play problematizes that notion. It asks its audience to take the same journey as the actors … they too are in the room at the end of the play.”
Race and gender are significant in how the six characters are named in the presentation by the artistic director. Each of the men are referred to as only as white man (Scott Lipman ’18 and Tom Robertshaw ’19) or black man (Williams and Brian Policard ’17). However, the women are given a name beyond their skin color and gender. The white woman, played by Liliana Bierer ’19, is referred to as Sarah in the presentation, as the recipient of each of the letters written by a German soldier. Interestingly, she is still called Sarah even when the actors break from acting out the presentation. When letters from a black man are introduced, the recipient (Normile) is also called Sarah.
The play walks a fine line between a humorous and a somber tone, with scenes varying from Bierer’s cat impression to explaining the strict orders of the German general to kill all Herero. At times, the switches in tone can prove a bit choppy. However, the play ultimately settles on one, which becomes deeply effective as the play closes, with strong performances from each of the actors.
One of the most powerful scenes involves a Herero man (Policard) facing down the barrel of a German soldier’s (Lipman) gun. This scene certainly ends with a bang, as does the play.