So Yellow Face began a conversation that’s continuing once again across town, this time at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company where there’s a seriously challenging production of perhaps the most loquaciously-titled show you’re likely to come upon: We Are Proud to Present a Presentation About the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as Southwest Africa, From the German Sudwestafrika, Between the Years 1884-1915 by Jackie Sibblies Drury.
Like Motti Lerner’s The Admission, which will be performed as a “workshop presentation,” the barebones performance at Woolly comes modestly presented as a workshop. But in the case of Woolly, this is a bit of a disguise. There will water falling from the ceiling. There will be a fancy color program to distribute at evening’s end. But to start, we’re given a single sheet of paper with the cast list on one side and a question on the back, and a golf-pencil taped to the top to facilitate a written response from the audience. It’s about a theater troupe trying to figure out how to get to the end of telling the story they’ve gathered to tell. “Who Can Write Whose Story?” was a question that arose during the academic talk-back. “Who has the right to play an African in a story of African genocide?” “How much focus must be on the white colonists in a story about the colonization of black Africa?”
Questions of authenticity abound. “Black people don’t make jokes about Woodstock!” Or do they? “The play foregrounds the machinery of representation.” Meaning, how history gets represented is made all the more explicit by having a theater troupe debate amongst itself how it intends to tell the story. And then we watch attempt after attem acknowledging pt play out before us in what seems to be both a rehearsal and a “presentation” — both acknowledging but also ignoring the audience.
What to make of it all? There are previous productions that made major impressions in both Chicago and New York. Those reviews are worth looking at. What of its reception here? It’s been all over the place. It’s got wonderful local actors whom we treasure.
What did our student subscribers make of it all? I’m particularly interested in the connections back to Yellow Face. Respond away!