‘We Are Proud to Present’ a striking and memorable Brandeis production

December 6, 2019

“We Are Proud To Present A Presentation About The Herero of Namibia Formerly Known As South West Africa From The German Sudwestafrika, Between the Years 1884-1915,” by Jackie Sibbles Drury, or “We Are Proud to Present” for short, was a poignant depiction of colonized history and offers attempts at decolonizing said history. The six main and only characters occupy the small rehearsal stage at the Laurie Theater for the entire run time. They do not have names, and instead are introduced as “Black Woman,” played by Rose Archer ’20, “Black Man,” played by Trinidad Ramiksson,“White Man,” played by Ben Helzner ’23, “Another Black Man,” played by Anderson Stinson III ’21, “Another White Man,” played by Peirce Robinson ’22 and the sixth actor, presumed “White Woman,” played by Renata Leighton ’21. Directed by Pascal Florenstal, the play overall seemed to evoke an anti-play attitude, a performance about the making of a performance. 

From the beginning, the play exuded a satirical tone, proving, with much dialogue, that the brief history of the first genocide of the 20th century of the Herero tribe of Namibia by Germany, an event that has been belittled if not ignored throughout history. Comments by the actors bring in the conversation of what actually happened, given the only primary source evidence available to the students are letters between German soldiers to their loved ones. This spirals into an argument that poses the critical question of the show: Who tells our stories? How much can we take from “evidence?” What do we define as evidence for historical events? It is clear these letters—the only primary sources accessible—do not give enough of the day-to-day ongoings of the Herero genocide and how the Germans treated the native people they oppressed and eventually murdered. 

In spite of these provocative questions, the dialogue between actors had a tendency to emphasize miscommunication in a way that left the audience feeling uncomfortable, which I would argue was a deliberate choice. Despite this, I’m not sure if these moments strengthened the poignancy of the play’s overarching themes. For example, “White Woman” pretended to be a cat for a while, pantomiming on all fours. There was an entire argument on how this actor was spending too much time thinking about what she was going to “be,” which seemed pointless and not as funny as it was supposed to be. Although I did not enjoy these script choices, the actors’ performances delivered. At one point, Stinson erupted into a rhythmic soliloquy that struck me as both powerful and added lightness to the heavy nature of the play’s discussion. 

Overall, the play definitely sent clear messages when it came to the decolonization of history and who has the authority and perspective in the way stories are told. It spoke about these ideas in a way that made the audience question the narrative around this genocide. What I think the play is trying to convey is the idea that parts of history have been omitted by colonizers and oppressors. We need to fill in this void with our imagination, and what we construct is still considered truth. We know this is true because the same oppression occurs today on a daily basis. We don’t know enough, but what we do know is told by the wrong people. The Germans, the invaders, the conquerors, the colonizers—whatever you want to call them—cannot tell the story of the Herero tribe because only the Herero could have truly told this story. The play is definitely worth a watch and is important for everyone to understand. 

The play closes with an attempt to reenact a murder of a Herero tribe member even though the event lacks specific historal evidence. This is the most heartbreaking moment in the play that is rendered truly captivating by the stunning performance by Ramiksson. By the end, I was left speechless. The actors did not return to the stage to take a bow, and the audience is abruptly left alone, not offered a moment of congratulations and instead left with the weight of this moment. 

Ambiguities aside, “We Are Proud to Present” was clever, ambitious and imaginative; the actors were able to create an absorbing experience that puts the audience in a position to figure out these issues alongside the actors—exemplifying that no one really knows the answers to these inconclusive questions. Brandeis doesn’t stage shows like this often, if ever.

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