The Woolly Mammoth Theatre production, “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 very much an in-your-face play about race relations and the creative process.
Written by Jackie Sibblies and directed by Michael John Garcés, “We Are Proud to Present” takes place in a warehouse-like setting where six actors are developing a play about the German colonization of South West Africa and the atrocities that occurred during that colonization. The actors are only known as Black Man, Black Woman, White Man and White Woman. As they attempt to find the voice of the characters and the play through the use of real letters written by a soldier to his wife, Sarah, their own feelings about race bubble to the surface, resulting in an explosive finale.
What happened in South West Africa and its people was horrific. But while the acting in the play is phenomenal, somehow the plight of the country gets lost amidst the device used to tell its story—the thought process. We’re actually watching the thinking that goes into putting on a play…we get to see what normally goes on behind closed doors, before we get the final product on stage. For me, as an audience member, that became more interesting. How does an actor get into character? Do they take the work home with them? Do feelings linger? How do actors make the characters real to themselves? “We Are Proud to Present” showcases all these questions and this is the part of the play I found utterly fascinating, even though that wasn’t supposed to be my takeaway, I am sure. Adding to my conundrum was the ending. To be honest, I didn’t understand the change in the actors and in talking to other audience members…they didn’t either.
Each actor gets his or her chance to shine and all are terrific. Dawn Ursula seems to be the director/actor for the play within the play and is wonderful. She has the most expressive face and voice and “We Are Proud to Present” showcases her talent. Holly Twyford is wonderful when playing Sarah. Joe Isenberg and Andreu Honeycutt are ferociously and scarily brilliant as the younger male actors and Michael Anthony Williams and Peter Howard are both great as the voices of reason throughout the play.
As one has come to expect from a Woolly Mammoth production, the set design from Misha Kachman, while sparse, is outstanding and works beautifully. Meghan E. Healey’s costumes are also spot-on.
Perhaps “We Are Proud to Present” tries to accomplish too much. Although it will give you something to think about, it ultimately misses the mark.