Cal Rep’s latest performance forces us to look at history through different eyes. “Proud to Present” follows the emotionally-charged journey of six actors coming together to present a historically accurate performance about the untold genocide of the Herero, a tribe in Africa, at the hands of German colonies from 1884-1915.
The story begins with a relatable group project dynamic.
The actors, known as generic names like “Black Man” or “White Man,” have continuously fierce arguments, the most consistent topic being whether or not they should read the letters German soldiers have written back home. There is no mention of any violence toward the local Herero tribe in these letters, which is the root of controversy. Three white actors compare the genocide to a “rehearsal holocaust,” implying the Herero genocide never actually occurred, due to the lack of “physical evidence.”
These argument between the actors creates a nervous apprehension that fills the theater, setting the tone for the rest of the performance.
The play picks up speed, enticing a range of emotions due to its whiplash tendencies, constantly switching back and forth between presentation and rehearsal mode, as well as humorous and serious atmospheres.
The play tells the history of the genocide from the point of view of a Herero man writing to his love interest, in an attempt to create a parallel to the German letters. The Herero man speaks about struggles the German letters have omitted which brings an empathetic quality to the drama.
It reaches an emotional peak when the German general orders a decree stating that trespassing Herero must be shot. Tension sparks as the German soldier and Herero man confront each other on the borders of German land. The scene is cut violently short when, switching back to rehearsal mode, the white actor playing the German soldier is overcome emotionally, protesting that he “wouldn’t do it” if he was in the soldier’s position. It showcases the struggles the actors are having, confronting the truth behind the horrors they are forced to act out. This helps connect with the audience the inner conflict of present day Americans accepting history through both the good and the bad.
The theme of if he would or wouldn’t pull the trigger is circled back throughout the performance. It develops into a confrontation between the two actors about not knowing what it’s like to play an African character, which trip over a conversation about roots and having a lineage.
The “director” of the performance, playing “Black Woman,” speaks about her discovery and camaraderie of the Herero people. Her explanation is shut down by the white actors, as they say she doesn’t “own someone else’s shoes.” It is easy for the audience to see that the white actors do not try to understand her struggle with her lost lineage and instead, they brush her off as unreasonable.
By revealing the actors’ faults, the audience is able to recognize the errors of society categorizing by race and being blind to the realities of history. There is a lack of understanding between actors that fuels the fire of the arguments throughout the entire performance.
The play comes to its ultimate climax, as the performance switches from a Herero-German dynamic to an American slavery scene. With the words thrown around, and the songs being sung, the performance rockets into a dark, creepy spiral. It ends abruptly, pushing the audience’s emotional boundaries and catapulting the characters into a rocky, distressed mess.
Forcing viewers to recognize similarities in the people we’ve met, who we are and who we know, “Proud to Present” brings a whole new meaning to breaking the fourth wall. The play sparks the fire necessary to open up a conversation about our history, the told and and untold versions of who we are today and how we can change the future with that knowledge.
Cal Rep will be performing “Proud to Present” through March 17. Tickets are $15 for students and faculty and $20 for general public and are available online at http://web.csulb.edu/colleges/cota/theatre/on-stage-now/index.html.