Reflect on Boundaries, Borders, and War at the Matrix
By Armando Huipe
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 is a disarmingly comic delight that packs a sharp dramatic punch at The Matrix Theatre. The play is about an ensemble of actors who have come together to devise a new play surrounding the little known genocide of the Herero people of Namibia by the German military at the turn of the 20th century.
The action begins as soon as the house opens and actors stroll in. The ensemble presents all of the pertinent factual information about the genocide at the top of the show in a farcical tableau, which unintentionally trivializes the genocide, garnering laughter from the audience.
Histories, dates, summaries, and even the title of this play disguise the personal, human stories behind tumultuous events. Under Jillian Armenante’s direction Daniel Bess, Julanne Chidi Hill, Joe Holt, Phil LaMarr, Rebecca Mozo and John Sloan play an ensemble that aims to tell this history, but subsequently loses control of the process, uncovering the worst faults in humanity and in themselves.
We are Proud to Present… explores the fallacy in portraying an event that history has erased. With little more than a timeline and love letters as source material, the ensemble is forced to create their Herero characters. As such, they place these characters and experiences under more familiar American contexts. Hence, an African genocide becomes an American slave story. And, as a Latino watching this performance in Southern California, the themes take on a tinge of the immigration discourse. The violence along the Mexico-U.S. border comes to mind as gun props hover over a wall that the actors construct at the end of the play. The stage suddenly resembles Border Patrol agents at the highly disputed fence that separates the U.S. and Mexico.
The players also wrestle with the question of taking artistic license and infringing upon the historical truth. Inevitably, the ensemble within We are Proud to Present a Presentation… superimposes stories of African-American slavery in the U.S. onto the Herero genocide, forcing the audience to call into question the humanitarianism of the history on which America is founded. A more straightforward play about the Herero genocide would have kept the conflict at too comfortable a distance.
A dissonance echoes throughout We are Proud to Present. . ., which obscures the arc of the play and its players. The diffusive nature of presenting a play about a developing play requires discord, which presents a formidable directorial challenge. It can be easy to lose your audience when so many layers to a story are in play. Armenante still finds a way to craft poignant moments that precipitate from the disarray. As the play becomes more physically taxing on its cast, the character of Black Woman (Julanne Chidi Hill) demands that the actors “stay in it.” The actors stay in it until the workshop becomes too real and one cast member walks out of the rehearsal. Even after the commute home, we as audience members are still in it until we as a society can see that beyond our differences there is congruence.
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
Written by Jackie Sibblies Drury
Directed by Jillian Armenante
Produced by Joseph Stern and The Matrix Theatre Company
The Matrix Theater
7657 Melrose Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90046
June 8th -August 11th
Thursdays @ 8pm (dark July 4th), Fridays and Saturdays @ 8pm, Sundays @ 2pm
Tickets: (323) 852-1445, Online: www.matrixtheatre.com