Strap on your seat belts.
There are no escape hatches for actors or audience members in Jackie Sibblies Drury's mouthful of a one-act: "We Are Proud to Present a Presentation About the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as Southwest Africa, From the German Südwestafrika, Between the Years 1884-1915."
The psychologically gnarly show, now up in Taibi Magar's gripping three-quarter round production at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, leaves you sitting hard on your seat until the end, unsure of what to do. At the end of Friday's performance, a few people tried to clap, as is customary at the close of something so moving.
But this is not your regular theater show with cast taking a bow at curtain. "Proud to Present" is a very fraught think piece on history, theater and our responsibilities to truth. It's a deep psychological excavation with touches of meta-theater. Although it's clunky at the outset, with too-long attempts at humor, it's well worth seeing.
In "Proud to Present," a troupe of actors tries to stage a play about the German rule over a portion of Africa between 1884, when European countries divided the continent into colonies, and 1915, when the Germans lost their hold on the territory.
And the production's many lessons include something that Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway would have benefited from before their epic Oscar fail Sunday night. The play says that after fumbling around to find a lighthearted way into something discomfiting, we should simply deal with it as honestly as possible. Blow the whistle, if you have to.
"Proud to Present" is about genocide or, more accurately, the deflection away from the truth. It's based on imagined letters that German soldiers wrote home to their loved ones. As the actors try to stage the work, they read these letters. But they have no mention of anything real that the soldiers are doing, such as building concentration camps, enslaving a population or conducting medical experiments on people — the horror that was scaled up for the Holocaust.
Director Magar stages "Proud to Present" with the lights up. The audience is not just a witness, but part of the action. We see one another. And the ensemble (Nike Kadri, Lamar Jefferson, Nika Ezell Pappas, JaBen Early, Quinn Franzen and Sam Bardwell) dives into the material with gusto. They take us on an emotional ride that throbs with a rhythmic propulsion, wrapping us up in its beats, even as we recoil from the horrors in front of us.
There are other shows where the actors' personae fuse with the characters. But none is as discomfiting or, at this moment in history, necessary to see.