For the Dramatist Guild of America's first special edition of THE DRAMATIST, editor Joey Stocks asked eleven dramatists:
What play, musical, or theatrical event – anywhere in the world – most excited/inspired you this season?
Here's my contribution:
Having experienced both IN THE CONTINUUM and ECLIPSED, the play I was most excited to see this season was Danai Gurira’s THE CONVERT at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company. In fact, the previous two productions had been produced by Woolly as well. It’s encouraging to see a theatre devoted to supporting, developing and nurturing the work and voice of a single playwright. It’s exciting to see the work of the playwright grow under such focused attention. Danai’s writing is sharp and distinctive. Her ability to convey cultural identity is masterful and compelling. Her emotional landscapes are raw, bold, and provocative. Her sense of history, the way that history shapes, defines, obliterates and propels us forward is lyrical, palpable and honest.
While specific to Zimbabwe--to the formation of Zimbabwe’s cultural, historical and political identity as a colony--and set in 1895, THE CONVERT resonated so deeply and completely with me. Specifically, it was the women’s stories that spoke to me. I admired Mai Tamba’s stubbornness, humor and sense of honor. I championed Jekesai’s desire for a better life and for a choice in what her life would be. I also understood the push and pull of her sacrifice.
But the character who shook me to my core was Prudence, who was performed brilliantly, expertly and passionately by Dawn Ursula. Prudence is so dangerously clever. She understands perfectly the socio-political rules of her world. She knows that as an African woman, her education and achievement mean nothing in the face of African patriarchy or British Colonialism. And yet, she holds and wields the most power of anyone in the entire play. Her patient and unwavering gaze misses nothing and no one, and her ultimate grace offers a point of salvation where it is truly most needed and most deserving, but completely unexpected … we would have understood her decision either way.
The Convert is a story of survival. It is the story of social mobility; of access to education, opportunity and wealth; and of the ability to exercise personal freedom. Again, I truly appreciated how rich, challenging and dynamic the lives of the women were. At a time, when the reproductive rights of women are being attacked in this country, this play seemed to speak on some level to the struggles that women are facing today.
This was originally printed in the 2013 Season In Review issue of The Dramatist, the official journal of Dramatists Guild of America.
Of course, D.C. audiences will remember Woolly's powerful production of Danai Gurira's The Convert under the direction of Michael John Garcés featuring Dawn Ursula (Clybourne Park, Eclipsed), Starla Benford, Nancy Moricette, Irungu Mutu, JaBen Early, Alvin Keith, and Erik Kilpatrick. Please enjoy these wonderful production photos by Stan Barouh.
Now in its 33rd season, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company continues to hold its place at the leading edge of American theatre. Acknowledged as “one of the most influential outposts for the best new American plays” (The Washington Post), and “known for its productions of innovative new plays” (The New York Times), Woolly Mammoth is a national leader in the development of new works, and one of the best known and most influential mid-sized theatres in America.
I'm a playwright, dramaturg, and teaching artist. It is here where you'll find my queries and musings on life, theater and the world. My posts advocate for diversity, inclusion, and equity in the American Theatre and updates on my own work. Please enjoy!