Monday, August 13, 2012

Review: Another Africa Plays from Volcano Theatre’s The African Trilogy

Review: Another Africa Plays from Volcano Theatre’s The African Trilogy

3 October 2011 No Comments

By Anya Wassenberg
Black and white is an apt way to describe Another Africa, and one that works on several levels. Both of the plays in the production take a particular view of Africa through a lens that is coloured one way or another by location and race. At the same time, neither offers easy answers or the last word on the topic, posing questions about larger issues through individual stories.

After the 90 second prologue, narrated by the casts of both plays, it launches into Binyavanga Wainaina’s Shine Your Eye. The play is set in Lagos, Nigeria, and its central character is Gbene Beka (played by Dienye Waboso,) daughter of a martyred revolutionary who tried to stand up to the oil companies with tragic results. Beka is a skilled computer hacker from the Niger Delta working for a friend of the family on an infamous 419 scam – those politely worded emails you get by someone who has access to millions of dollars and just happens to need your bank account to transfer the money.

Beka is torn, forced to choose between Naakue Chrispin Tambari, the family friend who wants her to use her father’s legacy and influence to further the cause, and a lesbian online friend in Toronto who offers escape to North America. As Lucky explains it, the people of the Niger Delta watch their land and water become degraded and the wealth of that land siphoned out to foreign purses daily. Multinationals have replaced colonial powers. If there is a lion, and they have been made goats, someone needs to pay them to be the goat. Was Beka’s father a hero or a fool? What is the truth if society itself is a lie?

Despite its weighty subject matter, the play unfolds seamlessly as a multi-dimensional experience anchored by the conviction of the actors’ performances. Sections of poetic narration intercut with scenes played straight, and include a song and dance number along with other elements of choreographed movement. Music and impressive projections by Germany’s fettFilm really work to enhance the storyline and the action on stage. This is definitely the Africa of the 21st century – not surprising from the playwright who penned the famous satirical essay, ‘How to Write About Africa’ .

Peggy Pickit Sees the Face of God by German playwright Roland Schimmelpfennig offers an entirely different perspective. Set in a living room in an anonymous suburbia of the Western world, it follows a foursome of characters through a disastrous dinner party. Tony and Liz are hosting a welcome back evening for Carol and Martin, returning from six years of aid work in an unnamed African nation. In a story shot through with both humour and pathos, the evening gradually unravels in a flow of marital confessions and the devastatingly sad secret Carol and Martin had to leave behind. Once again the play makes no attempt at a pat analysis. How is the largely white and Western world to genuinely offer help in troubled parts of Africa? Is the impetus entirely well-meaning or ultimately self-serving?  And does any of it actually make a difference in the end?

With a static set enhanced with some projection elements, Roland Schimmelpfennig uses a kind of stop and rewind effect, where the actors will actually back up physically in their movements and repeat some sections of dialogue. One by one they also address the audience directly in asides that often add humour. The cast of four is uniformly strong, handling the bumpy nature of the script deftly and offering a real and meaningful emotional centre to the story – the unsettling guilt of those who always have a safe haven to escape to when things go south.

It’s a very interesting production that should leave you with questions of your own, and continues at the Bluma Appel Theatre (27 Front Street East) to October 22.

WRITTEN BY Deborah Asiimwe
DIRECTED BY Weyni Mengesha
WRITTEN BY Binyavanga Wainaina
CAST: Dienye Waboso (Gbene Beka), Lucky Onyekachi Ejim (Naakue Chrispin Tambari), Ordena Stephens-Thompson (Doreen), Muoi Nene (Naijaboy), Milton Barnes (Chorus 1), Araya Mengesha (Chorus 2)
WRITTEN BY Roland Schimmelpfennig
CAST:  Kristen Thomson (Liz), Tony Nappo (Frank), Tom Barnett (Martin), Maev Beaty (Carol)

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