We Are Proud To Present

by Adam Brinklow

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday October 5, 2016

We Are Proud To Present

The full title is, "We Are Proud To Present A Presentation About The Herero Of Namibia, Formerly Known As Southwest Africa, From the German Subwestafrika, Between The Years of 1884-1815." We're only writing it out once.

And yes, like with "The Shipment" from Crowded Fire, before talking about this production at San Jose's the Stage we should mention that we're white. Whether that makes a big difference is probably in the eye of the beholder, but we're disclosing it now.

This is a history play about a history nobody really knows. The Herero of the title are a tribe in Namibia, a largely desert country just above South Africa. Around the turn of the century, they took exception to their German occupier's "Yertle the Turtle" style property laws (in which a German settler legally owned any land he could see, as long as it didn't already belong to a German).

So 80 percent of them were put to death, mostly via starvation. Because that was the Christian thing to do, apparently.

Despite the genocide theme, the show begins on a light-hearted note. The cast come off like the Rude Mechanicals from "A Midsummer Night's Dream," all boiling enthusiasm and ambition and faux improv, treating the play like a school project.

The six characters (three black and three white, all billed as simply "Black Man," White Woman," "Another Black Man" etc.) know they have a mandate to tell the Herero story, but not much else. The Herero left behind no firsthand accounts of the occupation, so there's not much to work with. In a play about people trying to relate to history, there's quite literally nothing to relate to.

"We Are Proud" lack of a set reflects this problem. Mostly there are only leftover bits from previous Stage productions: The floor from "The Wild Party" is still half painted on, and of the backdrops from "The Addams Family" and other shows lie around the visible backstage area, etc.

Oluchi Nwokocha makes a de facto director, trying to pour her own life into the show without hijacking it. Edward Ewell fights for the integrity of the show's African setting. Lyndsy Kail goes so Method that she ends up imitating the body language of a dead cat (don't ask).

But what do six very different people do when handed an impossible task? Well, to tell you would be to spoil the show, but suffice to say the lighthearted bickering soon gives way to something much more terrible, including a truly shocking climax.

"We Are Proud" offers two remarkable spectacles, first being that it's directed by L Peter Callender, who clearly spent a lot of time pushing his actors. When curtain call comes, they look emotionally exhausted; several wipe away tears. It's a hell of an exercise.

The second thing is AeJay Mitchell, credited as simply "Another Black Man," who's given the odd fitting job of initial comic relief which eventually turns to profound grief. If this is as hard for Mitchell as it reasonably should be, you can't tell, because he destroys all expectations.

The problem with "We Are Proud" is that it never quite gets away from that impossible mandate. It really can't be a story about a forgotten chapter in history because, well, it's forgotten. Instead, the show Trojan Horses in something completely different about human nature and life in America.

That doesn't quite sit right, though. We really do wish the African story had been more about Africa, if only that were possible. Without that, there's always something just missing.

"We Are Proud to Present" plays through October 23 at San Jose Stage, 490 S 1st St., San Jose, CA 95113. For tickets and information, call 408-283-7142 or visit TheStage.org.