“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” opened on Wednesday asthe third production in Sam Houston State University’s 2013-2014 theater season.
It was written by Jackie Sibblies Drury and directed by Leslie Swackhamer, assistant professor of theatre at SHSU.
The performance centers around the rehearsal process of six actors developing a presentation about a genocide that took place at the turn of the century in Namibia at the hands of the Germans. The audience is treated to a stunning production full of improvisation, chaotic actor banter, clever use of projections and thrilling, riveting, bone-shaking theater.
While the play focuses on race and the hypocrisies that arise when people try to make sense of their own beliefs, the play also provides a strong commentary on the validity of a vessel such as live theater to appropriately discuss issues as delicate as race, genocide, and heritage, essentially tearing theatrical conventions apart in order to present the fallacy underneath.
The set is an homage to past SHSU productions, with familiar props and items recognizable from the floor of “Red” (the first show of this season) to the cow of “Into the Woods,” and nicely compliments the nature of the rehearsal process with adequate props that sometimes add hilarity, substance, or keep us grounded and focused on the action in a most Brechtian manner.
The lighting design by David Deveau, and complementary projection design created by Deveau and Peter Ton, might as well be a seventh character in the show, for it adds incredible clarity to such a detail-oriented production. In particular, it keeps the timeline flowing with images of the specific years in which the actors are discoursing, which is an incredible help to the audience. In contrast, the costumes, though incredibly appropriate for the personalities of the characters they are assigned, sometimes make you question the time flow due to various costume changes throughout the production.
Aside from the success of the concept and technical aspects of the show, the real showstopper is the ensemble work of Clifton J. Adams, Andrew Carson, Catherine Pope, Jordan Bigler, Yemi Otulana, and Chasen Parker, who together form the tribe of six nameless actors that embark on this journey into sometimes hilarious, sometimes dark, sometimes blood-boiling territory.
In particular, the performances of Carson as Black Man/Actor 1 and Adams as Another Black Man/Actor 4 make for breathtaking theater at its finest, though every actor in the show presents laudable work that makes you wish the production had opted to have a curtain call.
Rarely does theater dare to venture into the multimedia, interdisciplinary form that has become the newest wave of the craft, but Swackhamer handles the direction with finesse and nuance, allowing for both a wonderful spectacle of a show, but also a relevant work with a message that should resonate with all audiences.
“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″runs from Wednesday to Saturday at 8 p.m. with a matinee at 2 p.m. on Saturday.
General admission tickets are $10 and $5 with a student discount. For more information or to reserve tickets, visit the SHSU University Theatre Center Box Office or call at (936) 294-1339.