Sunday, March 20, 2016

We Are Proud To Present…--Artists Repertory Theatre—SW Portland

“When Will We Ever Learn…”

The full title to this engaging cultural lesson by Jackie Sibblies Drury and directed by Kevin Jones is, 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.  It is playing at their space, SW Alder St. and 16th Ave., through April 10th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-241-1278.

The style of this play speaks to me personally, as when I was doing theatre in Ashland and Buffalo, Improv was a large part of some rehearsal processes, in which to get in touch with your character, you had to first get in touch with yourself.  The ultimate aim was to find the Truth in the piece and, thus, your character (and yourself).  In searching for the Reality of the situation, though, meant interacting with other characters/actors and, thereby, posed a corundum, because you are only experiencing that Reality from your perspective.  The true Reality may lie in the combined point of view of the group, or it may not truly ever be found in its entirety.  So, it begs the question, from whose perspective do we view this Reality or Truth (as this play questions).  Ah, “there’s the rub….”

This is an ensemble piece with all the actors (Chantal DeGroat, Joshua J. Weinstein, Vin Shambry, Chris Harder, Joseph Gibson and Rebecca Ridenour) playing a variety of roles.  The parts range from a German soldier with letters to his wife; his wife; an angry Afro-American searching for his roots; a German General without a heart; native tribal members; various animals, et. al.  The most consistent character is DeGroat, as the director of this improv piece, attempting to discover what really happened between the years 1884 to the beginning of WWI in South Africa.

In short, it was a genocide committed by Germany (not unlike the Holocaust leading through WWII), who ruled this area during that time period.  It started out peaceful enough (although one country taking over another bodes trouble any way you slice it).  Railroads were built, tribal leaders were appeased and it seemed, for awhile, all would prosper.  But Greed is a powerful motivating force in any government and, it is said, Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely.  And, like all dictatorships, Germany not only wanted a piece of the action but all of the action.   And so many Africans were enslaved, put into camps and, finally, eliminated.

Being the style of the play starts with the actors playing “themselves,” it begins with an overview of the events.  Not content with that, though, the director (DeGroat) wants the cast to really feel the roles and become part of the events in order to discover the reason for such an atrocity.  But, as the search for Truth continues, lines between the actors and the roles get blurred, they become personal and the play takes on an eerie, darker flavor, not unlike the boys in Lord of the Flies, where a collective mentality threatens to overrun the process.  To see how it all plays out, you’ll have to see the show.

All the actors are perfectly suited for their various roles.  And the cast and mostly bare stage seem to spill out into the audience, as if to say, this is your story, your reality, too.  Jones and his group know how to mesmerize an audience so, be warned, you will not leave the theatre without learning something about the human condition and psyche.  It builds to a riveting conclusion, an unsettling crescendo, in which we seem to be looking at things through a glass darkly, until it rotates and becomes a mirror for us.  “When will we ever learn…!”

I recommend this play.  If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

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