Between 1904 and 1907 an African genocide occurred that saw some 24,000 to 100,000 Herero and Nama tribal people killed in what was then the former German colony called South-West Africa which later became modern day Nambia,
Most people don't know about this, which is exactly why playwright Jackie Sibblies Drury put together this play, first performed in 2012. It tells the story of what happened after the Herero rebelled against the German confiscation of their lands and an extermination order was issued. Shown through the eyes and actions of six actors rehearsing their roles in an upcoming play, the story has a lot to say about race relations — unwieldy title and all.
Actor Alice Gatling is making her Stages Repertory Theatre directorial debut with We Are Proud to Present a Presentation About the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as South-West Africa, From the German Südwestafrika, Between the Years 1884 - 1915.
Fortunately, given the weighty subject matter, there is comedy throughout the 90-minute straight through play which Gatling says builds in intensity as it goes along.
"I think it's important because we do live in a such a stressful time," Gatling says. "People are like 'I don't want to get beat over the head with an issue' that they understand that this doesn't do that. But you leave with an understanding and an open curiosity that says I need to talk about it. Have people leaving talking about it. It's a play that's up for discussion."
Stages Artistic Director Kenn McLaughlin asked Gatling who has acted at Stages and other Houston area theaters if she would direct the play. It wasn't such a wild card move. Several years ago, Gatling directed at Houston's Ensemble Theatre. Then she left Houston for New York for the Lincoln Center's directors lab program. "People in New York discovered I could act and that was it for the directing."
Gatling saw this production while she was in New York. Before committing to McLaughlin's offer, Gatling read over the play and saw things in it she hadn't before. "Especially in light of today's society and the things that are happening in our world and how do we begin to tackle that in such a way that it brings about a change. How do we tackle those issues and still do it with love when the issue is so ugly."
"This is a way in to helping people begin the discussion. People want to do something they just don't know what to do," Gatling says. "This play doesn't offer us any answers but it does give you questions. So you can then start seeking those answers whether you find those answers within or through connecting with other people."
Performances are scheduled from March 14 through April 1 at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays at Stages Repertory Theatre, 3201 Allen Parkway. For information, call 713-527-0123 or visit stagestheatre.com. $25-$55.