This filmed play is an enhanced archive recording from 2016 and features the original English cast.
This is an incredibly thoughtful and anguished work and brilliantly produced. . . . It is a masterwork.
Devastating. This play is devastating and timely in the light of racial violence being called out into the light in America and elsewhere. This play doesn’t pull its punches. It is a universal indictment of racism, and tyranny and denying humanity for the most spurious of reasons.
A white American journalist comes to a remote, 40-year-old medical missionary hospital in an unnamed African country. The country is teetering on the edge of a civil war for independence from its white masters who have devastated the country in countless ways—environmentally, financially, educationally, and emotionally. The overriding attitude of most of the white people who run the mission and of Major Rice, who is intent on crushing the rebellion, is that they have “civilized the savages” and brought them to a Christian god. And they don’t understand why they are not thanked for their efforts.
Well, school is now in session.
Into this volatile setting comes Tshembe Matoseh, who has returned from England for his father’s funeral and to see his two brothers. The elder is very near ordination and the youngest (by quite a few years) is the product of rape and is half white and half African.
Choices will be made by all concerned. As Tshembe hurls at the journalist, Mr. Morris, in an incredibly charged and riveting scene, after 300 years how much longer are they expected to wait for non-violence and talking to work in reclaiming their own country?
There are many threads in this show, and one of the most ingenious is the indictment of Christian religions in the subjugation of African countries. A character, The Woman, never speaks but paces rhythmically through the piece. As a representation of the growing conflict, she also appears to be Tshembe’s conscious. As he comes closer to his crisis of conscience (he has a wife and infant he loves in England, and he is torn by his homeland), there comes a biblical moment. As he is resisting her calls for leadership, she physically climbs on his back and entwines him with her limbs and he slowly turns from the journalist to walk away, literally burdened by his conscience. The actor who inhabits Tshembe, Danny Sapani, is a bear of a man. The sheer physicality of the moment embodies every moral man wrestling with such choices, from Jesus to Nelson Mandela.
The full cast of characters includes: The Woman (Sheila Atim); Madame Neilsen (Siân Phillips); Abioseh Matoseh (Gary Beadle); Eric (Tunji Kasim); Charlie Morris (Elliot Cowan); Dr Marta Gotterling (Anna Madeley); Dr Willy Dekoven (James Fleet); Major George Rice (Clive Francis); Madame Neilsen (Siân Phillips); Peter (Sidney Cole); Ngago (Roger Jean Nsengiyumva); and the Ensemble (Daniel Francis-Swaby, Anna-Maria Nabirye, and Mark Theodore); and the Matriarchs and Singers (Mpahleni (Madosini) Latozi, Joyce Moholoagae (also music director), Nofenishala Mvotyo, and Nogcinile Yekani Nomaqobiso).
This is an incredibly thoughtful and anguished work and brilliantly produced by the National Theatre in England. The playwright, Lorraine Hansberry, only got to see it one time at the Actor’s Studios Writer’s Workshop.The final text adapted by Robert Nemiroff, as she died while working on her final draft. It is a masterwork.
It is an angry work also, and deservedly so. Hansberry based her play on the independence movements of Ghana and Kenya, although it could as easily have been Congo or South Africa or any number of countries that finally threw off the yoke of white imperialism. Nobody can see this and not say they don’t understand the underpinnings of white privilege and bias—and she doesn’t use shame or anger or diatribes to point out the inhumanity of such ingrained systems. Yes, some of the characters, most notably Morris and Tshembe have some very pointed and heated discussions, but the dark truths are indeed self-evident in her inspired work.
Running Time: Two hours and 28 minutes with one intermission.
Advisory: Racially-motivated violence,. gunshots, and implications of sexual violence.