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Miami’s “We are Proud to Present…” Proudly Presents a Wake-Up Call

Review by Shawn Maus of We are Proud to Present…: Miami University Theatre

The title of the play truly sums up what Miami should be – PROUD!

Jackie Sibbles Frury’s play We Are Proud to Present a Presentation About the Herero of Namibia Formerly Known As South West Africa From the German Sudwestafrika Bwtween The Years 1884-1915 is a play about a little known historical tragedy, which has been called the first genocide of the 20th century.  Miami’s production is inventive, impressive and will take your breath away…literally.

The plot of the play centers around how the Germans had a divide-and-rule policy towards  exterminating 80% of the Herero tribe.  Three actors – three black and three white – play actors who are rehearsing a presentation about the near extinction of the Herero tribe.

Even though every word is scripted (I read the play), director Torie Wiggins’ fluid production gives the impression of improvisation. Actors arrive in the stage space that looks like a rehearsal room, going through warmup exercises and being introduced to the “presentation” actors: “Black Man,” “White Man, “Another Black Man,” “Another White Man” and one actor who “actually, we haven’t really explained you yet. And they won’t get it so…just ignore her for right now.”

But you can’t ignore these actors. Wiggins has assembled a transformative cast. Utilizing powerful writing, these courageous actors manage to be comedic and devastatingly poignant while functioning as a tight ensemble. There are no easy answers to the questions the show brings to light. The cast keeps the audience engaged but uneasy. The performances are sometimes chilling.  It would be giving away too much to describe the attention-grabbing intensity towards the end.

Scenic designer Todd Stuart has created a very realistic rehearsal-room set. The projections that keep the audience informed of the play’s chronology are riveting without being distracting. One of my favorite parts of the show was the way it ended. I don’t want to give it away.

Dramaturg Katie Boissoneault notes that, sadly enough, the Herero are still fighting today for a fitting resolution to the tragedy. It’s one of the most powerful, most engaging, most upsetting and most necessary pieces of theatre I’ve ever seen.

Included in the playbill for the show is a ballot asking the audience to find Germany guilty or not guilty. I don’t think it’s a matter for us to decide. What is for us to decide is if we, in our current “civilized” world, are going to be guilty of repeating this type of presentation of humanity. We need to speak louder than actors. We need to speak to atrocities of genocide, the anger of racial divide. We need to be proud to understand one another’s cultures. I’m proud of Miami University for tackling such an issue, especially given today’s grim events in Parkland, FL and Syria.  We can’t just be generic “white man” and “another white man,” “black man” and “another black man.”

So this play will influence you and make you proud of the tremendous talent Miami University offers on its stage.  I’m so happy that I went to see it, got drawn in with the drama of contrast between humor and horror.  I am proud to say I was educated tonight.