Archive for category Play Reviews

The Memory Stick – Play Review


Set on an army base in Afghanistan in 2016, “The Memory Stick” by Irish playwright Donal O’Kelly, tackles some serious issues of right and wrong and moral obligation of soldiers when they see something unethical. The Memory Stick is a world premiere co-production between The Stage www.sanjosestage.org and the Arts Office of Dublin City Council, Ireland.  

Image result for "The memory stick", san jose stageTwo Native American soldiers Seth Shaw (John R. Lewis) and Jack Black Horse (Joseph Valdez), occasionally joined by Bridget (Lindsy Kail), begin a makeshift lodge while on an army base in Afghanistan.  Each of them relive their earlier memories and share ruminations that are deeply tied to their cultural identity. One of them has recorded some illegal data onto a memory stick about army’s unethical behavior and the discussion soon veers into the realm of morality and whether or not they should publish/leak this information.  The discussion weaves in many threads including systematic oppression of the Native Americans and events surrounding Wounded Knee as well as oppression of the Irish people and uprisings in Ireland. There is also a segment on Bradley/ Chelsea Manning that portrays Manning as a lonely hero.

This is an ambitious and bold play oddly reminiscent of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment and takes the audience into deep recesses of morality and ethics. Is the true mantra for soldiers, “theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do and die” or as soldiers in the bigger journey of life, do we all bear responsibility to question the wrong when we see it, that every person can, as Bridget quotes from James Connolly, do “his duty according to his lights”? This play is about human soul and whistle blowers and how it puts someone concerned with doing the right thing sometimes in an incredibly lonely spot.  Indeed the play tackles too much and leaves the audience a bit rattled as well as unsettled.  It is heavy on dialog and while that can put you to sleep at times, yet under the chaos of multiple issues are larger questions about life and morality that are guaranteed to keep you awake at night.  Irish and the Welsh dialect is enjoyable and staging by Tony Kelly is sparse but perfect.

For tickets, please go to www.thestage.org .

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Soundwaves: The Passion of Noor Inayat Khan – Play Review


Image result for noor inayat khanEnActe Arts recently produced Soundwaves: The Passion of Noor Inayat Khan.  

Stories of India inextricably linked with that of its neighbors, the collective that makes South Asia, have always been fascinating and generate universal interest. En Acte Arts company founded by Vinita Sud Belani focuses on bringing these fascinating tales on stage, with multi ethnic cast and crew. Their recent production, Soundwaves: The passion of Noor Inayat Khan told the story of Noor who was born from a union of Indian father and American mother, in January, 1914.  

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 Noor imbibed lessons of sufi tradition and during her formative years she focused on music and writing children’s stories. However, the rise of fascism and Nazi invasion of France altered her focus and she became a British spy in occupied France. Given Noor’s interest in music, the play’s heavy theme is beautifully blended with music and dance. This inspirational story is written for stage by Joe Martin. The play is beautifully directed by Vinita Sud Belani and Music composer was Randy Armstrong. Akaina Ghosh is clearly very talented actress and did an awesome job in bringing Noor’s character to life.

EnActe Arts has grown in stature and influence in the bay area. This was a bold production of telling an inspirational story with many twists and turns.  The play featured a large cast and EnActe did a fabulous job.  I will be watching for future plays from this theater company.  For tickets, go to www.enacte.org .

 

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“Calligraphy” – Play Review


Playwright Velina Hasu Houston’s “Calligraphy”, currently running at www.theatreworks.org  at Lucie Stern Theater in Palo Alto, directed by Leslie Martinson, is a complex family drama that tests dynamic family bonds from multiple angles.

Image result for theatreworks, calligraphyFirst, there are two cousins, one American, Hiromi (Mia Tagano), daughter of Japanese mother and African American WWII veteran, Eamon (William Thomas Hodgson) and the other, Sayuri (Elizabeth Pan) are dealing with challenges of caring for their respective aging mothers with physical problems ranging from limb fracture to Alzheimer’s to emotional issues like over-dependance. Second, intermingled with these challenges are cultural issues.  Third, while traditional Japanese culture is steeped in family obligations, and generational rules of etiquette mired in feelings of guilt, there is also an overlay of younger generations growing up with vastly different and sometimes Western values. Hiromi is raised by Japanese mother Noriko (Emily Kuroda) in America, albeit with Japanese values, and considers it her filial duty to take care of her mother in old age.  Meanwhile her cousin Sayuri is raised by her Japanese mother Natsuko (Jeanne Sakata) in Japan. Although Natsuko raises Sayuri with strict Japanese values, colored by external influences, Sayuri rebels and pursues Western attire as well as values of independence and freedom.  And finally, these cultural influences collide in interesting ways with individual personalities and temperament of the colorful characters.

Image result for theatreworks, calligraphyWhen the cousins Hiromi and Sayuri plan to arrange a family reunion of sorts and bring their mothers together after the distance of several  years and different continents, the cultural, generational, relational, and personality collisons occur with a noticeable bang. The two elderly sisters have been bitterly estranged over Noriko’s romance with a black GI and they have not since reconciled. Noriko was a beautiful young woman, married the love of her life, raised a responsible daughter and now afflicted with beginnings of Alzheimer’s, she often imagines the presence of her late husband, Eamon, forgets her whereabouts, but often remembers critical details of her childhood.  Meanwhile Natsuko is as intolerant of her wayward daughter’s choices regarding her filial duty, marriage, sex etc. as she was of her sister’s choice of marriage, years ago. And yet despite the intolerance and the drama, Natsuko too has a certain inner strength and a vision to live life on her own terms.

Within artful strokes of “Calligraphy”, these four beautiful women with their unique version of inner strength, stamp their own signature in their world, with bold strokes of personal choices. Calligraphy is not a play about A significant event but about high emotional stakes of ordinary living and these get amplified with beautiful acting by talented cast. I love Mia Tagano in all the diverse roles I have seen her perform. Kudos to Theatreworks Artistic Director, Robert Kelley for enabling ordinary life issues to take the form of art. Calligraphy will be running till March 29, 2017.  For tickets, go to www.theatreworks.org .

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“Airport Insecurity” – Play Review


Current play “Airport Insecurity” written and directed  by Vikas Dhurka is NAATAK company’s (www.naatak.org, Twitter @naatak) 56th production and features a comedic yet horrifying tale of an Indian immigrant on work visa, who loses his passport, wallet, and mobile phone at the airport, in a foreign, unfamiliar country, while in transit.

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No one wants to be stuck in an indefinite limbo in transit, but Vijay (
Varun Dua) has especially urgent need to return home to the US where his wife Priya (Devika Ashok) is about to deliver in what is turning out to be a high risk pregnancy.  Vijay gets caught in a complex bureaucratic labyrinth where he cannot travel anywhere without a passport, US is not responsible for his “situation” since he is not a US passport holder, Germany will not allow him entry since he does not have a passport on which a temporary visa can be stamped, and his home country India requires that he travel to India where a new passport can be issued to him. In order to travel to India without a passport, he has to jump through multitude of forms and submit to background checks that can take upwards of 30 days or more, while spending days in Lufthansa lounge at the airport and spending nights in the airport travel area.  

As Vijay makes several calls to the Consulate General of India offices in various cities and while he encounters usual tactics of evasiveness, comments regarding inconvenient timing, Vijay then encounters a kindly Indian official from the CGI who meets Vijay at the airport and explains to him, “here are some forms to fill out; most of them are necessary but not important”. India has inherited such a stupendous bureaucratic procedural system, a legacy of the British rule, that navigating one’s way through the system can be a nightmare but also creates a comedy of errors and that regaled the audience. Indeed, India has made a huge progress but we still have ways to go. I will describe my own experience of losing my passport below.

Meanwhile, Vijay also meets kindness and compassion along the way.  In the end, the solution comes from his own ingenuity and from a country that relies on fairness and swift solutions, where you don’t need to know someone important to get a resolution, where compassion is built into the system, where no one needs to suffer endlessly without reason. I may have misspoken — err solution came from a country that was all that and more but in its quest to make itself “great”, it may lose the status of being the best; a country where an Indian immigrant techie caught in the current hate rhetoric is now more likely to lose his life in a little bar in Kansas, and incredulous Indian parents may be less likely to enable their children to go a country where struggle may not be about climbing the ladder of success but about staying alive and finding tolerance.

This comedic tragic tale is also relevant in the context of what happened to many hundreds of people caught in wake of the current administration travel ban. Caught off guard, caught in transit, caught at airports that denied them entry after draining long journeys, many people encountered a surreal situation of being neither here nor there, of not belonging, unable to hug and find comfort and solace with their loved ones. Nation that evoked and inspired the best, left splintered families in a state of “airport insecurity” limbo.  NPR has discussed this not-to -miss play, relevant in the current context. See link https://ww2.kqed.org/arts/2017/02/24/silicon-valley-theatre-scene-bristles-with-political-edge-in-the-age-of-trump/ 

Great kudos to playwright and director Dhurka for showing one man’s incredible and true story with an appropriate dose of humor; kudos also to producer, Gopi Rangan and to NAATAK company for bringing 56 incredible plays relevant to the South East Asian community in the bay area. Over 60,000 attendees have enjoyed their shows, performed by over 850 artists. Get your season passes at www.naatak.org .  See below my own short story of loss of passport.

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The time when I lost my passport in India

I had meant to write a blog but it never happened. Here is a short saga of my own loss of passport. I had my passport and my purse stolen while traveling in India. It is a great  blessing to be an American citizen, if this were to happen to you. I traveled overnight to Mumbai and as I entered the American consulate, I stepped into an incredibly efficient and welcoming zone. I told them I wanted quickly a temporary passport that would enable me to travel back home. They issued a passport within 2 hours, while I waited in their comfy room. They also handed me a letter addressed to the Indian commissioner of Police stating that I had lost my visa with my passport and that India should immediately grant me a visa to leave the country and beseeched  them to “extend all cooperation for speedy permit to enable this American citizen to return home”.

That is where my saga begins. I was informed by the Indian office of police that they needed to do background check and it could take up to 30 days. I had to fill in all the forms online and then go to the office with forms printed in triplicate and wait for hours to get an appointment. When I asked why they needed forms online and in print and whether they followed automated system or manual system then I was informed that they followed “automated manual system). 

I was asked to first go to the police station in the locality where theft happened. When they said there was no one who can write a report, I requested that they give me the typewriter and I offered to write it up on their behalf and they allowed me to do that. Then I had to go the local police office in the area where I resided for 15 days as a tourist. Local office asked me to produce electricity bill where I resided. I had to request that from the owner of the property who took his own time to produce it. When I was asked to pay Rs. 3,000 in cash, I handed over a big bunch of Rs. 100 notes. They brought out a foolscap sheet of paper and asked me to write down the number of each note before standing in a line where they received payment. It took 7 days of going back and forth between police stations and offices before I was issued a small note that said it was okay for me to leave the country. Later at the airport, I noticed that the validity of this little document was expiring that very day. If for any reason I were to miss my flight or weather or technical or some other delay would occur than that little note obtained after such hard work would be invalid.

But then there were two things in my favor. I was an American citizen (brown skinned or not) at a time when America was still the best AND I wasn’t in transit, but rather in my home country, a country that I love and am proud that every day it is progressing in its quest to be better, more efficient, and more compassionate.

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“Disgraced” – Play Review


Ayad Akhtar’s Pulitzer prize-winning play “Disgraced” playing at San Jose Stage theater, takes the audience on a deep dive into the complexity of identity formation, change and dynamism of identity, and also identity destruction.

The entire drama plays out in a tastefully decorated, beautiful Manhattan apartment, occupied by Pakistan born, Amir Kapoor (Damien Seperi) and his caucasian wife, Emily (Allison F. Rich). Amir is quickly climbing the corporate ladder at his Manhattan law firm and has so wholeheartedly embraced the American dream with its trappings of wealth and success that in order to get a better acceptance, he passes himself off as an immigrant from India, when a partner assumes him to be from India. That is an early peek into the close cousin of identity and the complex arena of stereotypes, where Pakistan generates stereotypes of terrorism and India of engineers and education.  If Amir may be embracing fiscally conservative values, his wife Emily is a bleeding heart liberal. While Amir is hiding aspects of his identity and rejects everything Islam, Emily seeks out liberal causes and implores her husband to stand up and fight for what is just and on behalf of those falsely accused of terrorism related activities, in the aftermath of 9/11.

Image result for disgraced, san jose stageEmily and Amir are hosting a dinner party for their elite, high-powered friends, Jory (Kathryn Smith-McGlynn), a lawyer from Amir’s firm and her husband Isaac (Jonathan Rhys Williams), a curator at the Whitney Museum. Just as Amir denounces everything Islam, Emily constantly contradicts his criticism of faith and insists on finding “beauty and wisdom in Islamic tradition”. Her paintings draw on Islamic art and she insists that the Muslims gave the world a “visual perspective”. She has created an Islamic piece of art and is hoping that she will get her big break through Isaac.  Isaac is Jewish but critical of Israel’s military actions in the region. His wife Jory is African-American and is fully aware of the impact of racial profiling.

As the story advances, through various twists and turns, a complex picture and many questions emerge. Do people feel pressured to renounce their “other” cultural identities in order to gain mainstream acceptance and climb the ladder of success in America? Do people suppress rather than erase, sometimes with bitterness, their primary identity, even as they embrace mainstream values? Amir shares the story of growing up Muslim where his mother not only wanted him to embrace his culture and religion but also taught him prejudice against “others”. Albeit he embraced mainstream values but deep inside he felt rage.

Image result for disgraced, san jose stageThe fascinating aspect of this play is that it centers not just around Amir’s story. Jory has her own identity battle, as does Isaac and in fact, Emily has her own identity issues.  At an individual level, there are multitude of factors that contribute to a person’s identity, including geographic location where one grows up, one’s religion, one’s peers, parents, teachers, siblings, as well as one’s personality and temperament.  However, when others perceive an individual, they tend to simplify and often judge or assume someone’s identity based on one or two factors that matter to the perceiver. At societal level what creates infinitely amazing kaleidoscopic reality is how diverse identities of multitude of people collide and intersect at multiple levels, especially when invited to focus exclusively on identity, as in the current political environment.  

And finally, constant and extreme pressure to prove oneself, to suppress one’s innate identity and everything it meant in one’s formative years; real or imagined pressure to renounce one’s faith, religion or culture in order to fit in, to prove oneself, takes an incredible toll on a person. The stress can manifest in diverse ways including depression, addictive behaviors, violence, and irreversible adverse impact on health. At least one or two of these are manifested in this story.

San Jose Stage Theater (www.thestage.org)  has always brought bold and relevant productions and participated in raising important questions and promote crucial dialog in our society and this play is immensely pertinent in the current political, cultural environment. Great kudos to the production team, to Ayad Akhtar, to Director William Ontiveros and the entire creative team.  

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Ideation – Play Review


“Laugh about it, cry about it, but a job is a job”. But is it really, and at what cost of personal credibility and supply of #alternativefacts does one maintain a job with questionable ethics?  In “Ideation”, playwright Aaron Loeb addresses the issue of morality and ethics, through a group of corporate consultants working together on a mysterious, exciting, well paying, and ethically ambiguous project.  Hannah (Lisa Mallette) is the in-house corporate executive and most senior member in the room.  Her job is to facilitate and drive the project but more in a conciliatory manner than by controlling.  She is joined by external consultants, Brock (George Psarras), Ted (Tom Gough), Sandeep (Sunny Moza).  Additionally Scooter (Max Tachis) is a young intern, pushed by Hannah’s boss JD to do odd jobs like take notes, get coffee, get required supplies and get the room ready.

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While extremely short dead line creates some serious pressure, super secret hush-hush project with obscure mission about disposal of dead bodies lands the group into giant quagmire of ethical dilemmas.  As the group questions the morality of the tasks, goal, and strategy, suspicions emerges about who might be in charge of the project, could there be several such projects, could each team be privy to only limited amount of information, and who would bear moral responsibility for such a mission.  The paranoia quickly escalates to break down the team, as the members begin questioning who in the team has how much information and who could be a plant from the top and the ethical dilemma begins causing cognitive dissonance regarding their role in the entire affair.

Image result for ideation, citylightsDirected by Mark Anderson Phillips, the play is thought-provoking, devilishly dark, and infuriating (because most of the answers never come), but also funny.  In Trump era, marked by secrets and lies, it is also very timely. The interesting and thought provoking idea is that when a head honcho, someone at the top of the food chain refuses to be transparent and share the vision and properly considered tactical steps then there is a cascading feeling of paranoia and eventual breakdown in the team. Several times the team decides to stick to the project at hand and adhere to logic. But quickly the resolve evaporates in the looming cloud of suspicion, because logic and transparency go hand in hand, and in the absence of one, the other cannot be sustained.

Great kudos to Director, Phillips and the entire creative team, to production manager, Ron Gasparinetti and Executive Artistic Director, Lisa Mallette, for bringing such timely and bold productions to San Jose, CityLights. For tickets, please go to www.cltc.org . Ideation will run till February 19, 2017.

 

 

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Crimes of the Heart – Play Review


Beth Henley’s Crimes of the Heart, set in MaGrath family kitchen, is a story of sisterhood.  Anyone who has lived with sisters would agree that sisterly bonding is strong, it’s sweet, it’s sorrowful, it is sassy, it’s surreal, it’s serene. The play that just opened at Mountain View Center for Performing Arts, takes the audience on the complex journey of sisterhood.

Part of the literary genre known as “Southern Gothic”, the play won the 1981 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Play.  Mix of tragedy and dark comedy, the play is set in 1950s, in a small town in Mississippi.  The youngest sister Babe (Lizzie O’Hara) is out on bail, after briefly being jailed for shooting her husband (who is injured in the stomach but survived the shooting).  Middle sister, Meg (Sarah Moser) is just out of the psychiatric facility and has arrived at older sister Lenny’s (Therese Plaehn) home to gather in support of Babe through her court trial.

High Res L-R: Meg (Sarah Moser), gets a reaction from her sisters Lenny (Therese Plaehn) and Babe  (Lizzie O'Hara) in Crimes of the Heart, presented by TheatreWorks Silicon Valley Jan. 11 - Feb. 4, 2017 at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts. Photo credit: Kevin BerneIt is obvious that all three sisters are having a bad day, perhaps a bad life. Babe is entangled in an abusive relationship, Meg joyfully embraces life only to be challenged at every turn, and Lenny celebrates her 30th birthday alone in the kitchen, trying to blow out her candle on a cookie, making wish after another wish.  The sisters are brutal towards each other one minute and supportive and encouraging, the next.  It all comes together to create a touching tapestry of sisterhood, family, and deep ties that provoke great sorrow and also provide strength when strength is needed to get through life’s biggest challenges.  

High Res L-R: Sisters Lenny (Therese Plaehn), Babe (Lizzie O'Hara),  and Meg (Sarah Moser) share a moment in Crimes of the Heart, presented by TheatreWorks Silicon Valley Jan. 11 - Feb. 4, 2017  at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts. Photo credit: Kevin BerneBeautifully directed by Giovanna Sardelli, special mention also goes to Stage Manager, Ashley Taylor Frampton and Assistant Stage Manager, Emily Anderson Wolf, for fabulous stage design.  Major kudos to TheatreWorks’ artistic director, Robert Kelley for bringing a bold and honest story, told from a female perspective, as he says, “in a year that has already focused on America’s women in so many unexpected ways”.  As a million women are set to march in the nation’s capital, and so many more all over the country, in a show of solidarity and strength that emerged from spontaneous rallying cry via social media, to repudiate sexist, racist, misogynystic and divisive rhetoric that has colored current political and social climate in the country, this play focusing on women’s passion, insight, frustration, and bonding, is very timely.  It is also telling how a bunch of loony sisters can overcome and prevail when they bring their passions and bond together, over some sugary desserts :).

“Crimes of the Heart” will be playing in Mountain View till February 5, 2017 and tickets can be purchased at www.theatreworks.org .

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Calendar Girls: Play Review


Image result for calendar girls, city lightsBased on a feel-good true story, “Calendar Girls” is adapted by Tim Firth from his original screenplay, for Nigel Cole’s 2003 British film, by the same name.  The play focuses on six women and their resolve to make a difference in the world, with meaningful contribution.  Members in a women’s club, these six women, Chris (Anne Younan), Annie (Deb Anderson), Cora (Caitlin L. Papp), Jessie (Ruth E. Stein), Celia (Karen DeHart), Ruth (Mary Lou Torre) often spar with the club queen bee Marie (Patricia Tyler) about how their club could be a more meaningful group.  Opportunity presents itself when Annie’s husband, John (Ken Boswell) passes away and in memory of John, the women decide to raise funds for a new couch in the waiting room of the local hospital.

They imagined that ordinary, run of the mill calendars with flowers and landmarks would not sell easily.  Chris and Annie came up with a unique idea (something they had jokingly discussed earlier in John’s presence). They decided to do a calendar with pictures of their group of mature women doing traditional Women’s Institute activities like knitting and baking, with a little twist. The women would pose in nude as they do these activities, with discreetly placed props to cover specific body parts with little exposure but more of a titillating suggestion.

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The women were not prepared for the notoriety and eventually international fame the calendar brought them. It took a toll on their friendships and personal lives. Sometimes they lashed out at each other and at other times in their frustration they lost sight of the fact that they had far exceeded their set goal.  While they had imagined raising a few hundred pounds for the couch, they ended up raising nearly 3 million pounds that enabled building of an entirely new hospital wing.

Eventually, these classy women found their footing and solace in their friendship. They recognized that “out of John’s tragic death came something very special; and acknowledged that “everything we do is born out of love for him”. Clearly their little act stood as a symbol of something much bigger than they had imagined. It was sexiness combined with spunk, mixed with a dose of sass that set them free and enabled them to create a work of art, in favor of a worthy cause, and the world took notice and found inspiration.

While the story is played on world stage, Director, Jeffrey Bracco, Scenic Designer, Ron Gasparinetti and Stage Manager, Kimberly Scofield did a fabulous job in bringing the world to the women, on stage. Calendar Girls will be playing at City Lights Theater in San Jose, CA till December 18, 2016 and tickets are available at www.cltc.org .

 

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The Night Alive: Play Review


The Night Alive, written by Conor McPherson and directed by Tony Kelly, is a kind of nativity story focusing on compassion and kindness although the beginning seems like it’s anything but that. The play starts by providing a glimpse into the slice of anguished lives of a few lost souls and faint but clear glimmers of hope appear by the end.

Image result for night alive, san joseTommy (Randall King) rents a room in his uncle Maurice’s (Julian Lopez-Morillas) old Edwardian house in Dublin. Uncle Maurice lives upstairs and though critical of Tommy, he also loves him.  Tommy’s friend, Doc (Lawrence Radecker) is Tommy’s little sidekick who also frequently sleeps in the room and helps Tommy with odd jobs.  They scrape by from day to day work and live amidst junk-filled squalor of the room. As the play begins, one night Tommy rescues a young prostitute, Aimee (Allison F. Rich) and bring her home to get her cleaned up. Aimee has no place to go and she ends up staying, for that night and another and another.

Tommy has been estranged from his wife and kids and does not have anything significant to look forward to in life. But a sort of friendship develops between Tommy and Aimee and it brings a little sunshine into his otherwise dark life.  Friendship also sprouts between Aimee and other men. Doc is a little slow and at first he is not quite approving of the loss of his sleeping place and of his friend’s attention. Uncle Maurice is also somewhat disapproving at first. Deadpan humor while all these lost souls are trying to find their bearings in a situation of change and chaos is often heart-breaking but things start to get resolved and just as there is emergence of hope for a kinder gentler life, the story takes a turn.

Image result for night alive, san joseAimee’s ex-boyfriend Kenneth (Jonathan Rhys Williams) comes looking for her and completely disrupts their lives. Is that not how life often unfolds for people with lower means and resources, and keeps them imprisoned in a vicious circle where while they continue to live, life in a true sense seems to emerge every now and then but continues to stay out of their reach?  For this group, as life unfolds in the moment, as they live without dreams, goals and a future, their little attempts at humor seem like attempts to grab fleeting happiness, whenever they can. Doc once brings a book titled “How to survive life-threatening situations”, and reads from it. As the audience laughs at totally non-helpful suggestions outlined in the book, a question lingers, how does one survive life that has nothing to offer?

If however, the ending is good, rest does not matter. Play ends ambiguously, albeit at a place where a little hint of hope, a faint flash of faith emerges.  Sometimes love and kindness may just be enough to open a future of possibilities.

The Night Alive is playing at www.thestage.org in San Jose till December 11, 2016.

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“We are proud to present” – Play Review


Colonialism and racism are intertwined with notions of superiority, subjugation and reducing people to less than; sometimes driving them to extinction. Doing justice to even one of these two connected and complex, heart rending topics, in a short performance, is a massive challenge. But focusing on both, in one theatrical performance?

img_20161012_223048146.jpg“We are proud to present” written by Jackie Sibblies Drury, currently playing at San Jose Stage, presented in association with the African-American Shakespeare Company, does just that.  Art and life merge as White Man (Coleton Schmitto), Black Man (Edward Ewell), Another White Man (Brandon Leland), Another Black Man (Ae Jay Mitchell), White Woman (Lyndsy Kall), and Black Woman (Oluchi Nwokocha) encounter their own personal prejudices, while rehearsing for their roles for a performance focusing on 20th century genocide in a little known place in Africa.

History is most frequently written by those in charge and there exists little documentation about the episode that occurred between the years 1904 and 1907, in modern-day Namibia, then a part of German South-West Africa.  The performers are trying to bring the episode to life, based on few letters. Dubbed one of the first genocides of the 20th century, this was a campaign of racial extermination and collective punishment undertaken by the German Empire. When the Herero rebelled, they were driven out into the desert, where most died of starvation. Then the Nama people rebelled and faced a similar fate. Between 24,000 and 100,000 Herero (about 80% of Herero) and 10,000 Nama died during those few short years. After defeat, thousands of Herero and Nama were imprisoned in concentration camps, where the majority died of disease, starvation, exhaustion, and abuse.  

However, those looking for a deeper focus on the genocide episode will be disappointed. From the starting point of colonization and discussion on how to bring the episode to life on stage, art and life merges and the play morphs into impact of race in the current time. Given less documentation of the events surrounding the episode and thus given less structure, there is much discussion of where to put the focus and who should play which role. Tensions begin to mount and conflicts appear as their personal biases makes it a fully subjective experience. It is when one unravels the strands of history, that one finds that history is intimately linked with the present. And to those who experience life on different terms, peeking into history is often a stronger, more emotional experience.

On a little sidebar note, in the currently heated election 2016 season, candidate Donald Trump’s transgressions, reminded many women of their own encounters of sexual minimizing, leading to big gender gap in recent polls. For some women, events as far back as 30 years or more into their life, seemingly felt like they happened yesterday.

Directed by L. Peter Callender, the play gives a deep insight into the layered conversation that exists about race and subjective and deep feelings people have in society. Bitter and vehemently fought election campaigns this year, have often focused “bigly” on race and bigotry.  The play will make you uncomfortable but also take you on a journey of self-reflection. Tickets can be purchased at www.thestage.org .

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