Three American Academy of Dramatic Arts alumni, Matthew Stannah, Yudelka Heyer and Isaac Danna, have teamed together to found a unique, African inspired, NYC-based theater company called Red Soil Productions. The focus-specific company's mission is to bring new stories to the U.S. stages in an effort to awaken American culture. The performance of "Red Valley" is nothing short of awakening.
Written by Artistic Director Matthew Stannah, "Red Valley" marks Red Soil Productions' debut performance. The two-act play invites us into Kenya through the eyes of a European family struggling to stay together during the national crisis of the Mau Mau rebellion (1952-1960). Most touching is the Stannah's connection to this play, noted in the program, as it reflects his own life and family's experience.
Stannah does an excellent job of saying so much with few, pointedly chosen words. Poignant lines of the script compliment the spurts of emotionally extreme action (attacks, killings, rape) on stage. In fact, the play opens with a particularly tumultuous scene of screams and pregnant woman being thrown on a table, a knife approaching her, as her presumably dead, bleeding husband is dragged across the floor.
The Mau Mau, an anti-colonial group, were committed to driving the European community out of Kenya. The play toys with the audience's empathy, shifting it from one side to the other as the characters similarly wrestle with who is to blame, deserving the title of "the bad guys" during such a chaotic and alarming rivalry for control.
The marital dynamic between Jack and Beth (played by Matthew Vitticore and Aimee Marcelle respectively) reflects the depth of the conflict brewing in Kenya. "What are these things when you can't sleep at night and every noise you hear sends shivers up your spine? When every walk through your garden might be your last," Jack pleads, suggesting they return with their daughter to safety in Britain. A drink and cigarette as permanent fixtures in Beth's hands, her absolute stubbornness and tendency to resort to bold displays of strength despite moments of vulnerability, is successfully captured by Marcelle. Beth stands by her decision to stay at her home in Kenya, albeit dangerous and filled with new memories of her cats skinned and killed, being raped in front of her daughter, and attacks on her servants. She declares, "Once you have touched...and bleed on the red soils of this place, you are under its command."
Meanwhile their daughter, Charlotte (played by Rachel Jane) gets caught in their crossfire. Close to her parents and the family's servants - Joseph (played by Richard Nwaoko) and Flora (played by Joanna Kasamba) - Charlotte is the link between them all. Jane's endearing performance as the innocent among a horrid reality gives the play another layer, demonstrating a relatable perspective and a lighter element within the serious subject matter.
Also of note is Kasamba's moving, dramatic monologue as Flora in the second act. Her emotional commitment is incredibly spot-on as she recalls to Beth her viscous attack and rape in front of her husband. There were tears in the audience.
Direction credit goes to Yudelka Heyer, with lighting design by Michael O’Connor, and set and sound design by Isaac Danna. The cast features Aimee Marcelle, Matthew Vitticore, Rachel Jane, Joanna Kasamba, Richard Nwaoko, Steven Daniel, Miles Alexander, Kristen Wulf , James Physick and the play's creator Matthew Stannah alternating his role with Brian Clancy.
Red Soil Productions presents "Red Valley" at The New Theater at 354 West 45th Street at 9th Avenue through Saturday, March 23, 2013. Tickets for the remaining performances can be reserved online here. Tickets are $18.00 and only $13.00 with a valid student ID.
This is a theater company that has something to say, and they have only just begun. For more information on Red Soil Productions, please visit their website and/or follow them on facebook and twitter.