BWW Reviews: THE HUMAN SPIRIT Will Open Your Eyes to Apartheid in South Africa
Apartheid is defined as "an official policy of racial segregation formerly practiced in the Republic of South Africa, involving political, legal, and economic discrimination against nonwhites." But how much do Americans really know about the history of South Africa after World War II that led to this monstrous segregation policy? Certainly I never learned about it in school and what little I do know, I heard on the news.
But thanks to Carole Eglash-Kosoff's World Premiere production of her play THE HUMAN SPIRIT at the Odyssey Theatre directed with insight and compassion by Donald Squires, I now have a much clearer understanding of the horrible decisions made by white Europeans leading to apartheid against native black Africans, even those who had fought during World War II and were treated as second class citizens once they returned home. Yes it reminds me of how Vietnam Veterans were treated in the United States, as well as what I did learn about segregation in the American South. The play opens with photographs from the South Africa we never saw in America, and it will open your eyes to what Nelson Mandela became so famous for fighting against.
Eglash-Kosoff introduced the play on opening night and I was fortunate to speak with her following the inspiring performance. She has spent her life writing, teaching, and traveling to more than seventy countries. Her book, "The Human Spirit - Apartheid's Unheralded Heroes," was inspired by two-years of teaching in South Africa, with all profits donated to Ikamva Labantu and other South African charities.
"Freedom and equality rarely come to those who merely want it. They come only to those who are willing to wage the necessary struggle to merit them. The people whose stories are dramatized deserve such an accolade. During a difficult time in my life, I reached out in hopes of reviving my own faith and benevolence. The journey helped me to discover the undeniable connection that we all have as people...the human spirit" - Carole Eglash-Kosoff; Playwright
THE HUMAN SPIRIT is the story of some of the many unknown men and women who devoted their lives to support that country's most disadvantaged. Some toiled publicly, but most worked tirelessly in the shadows to improve the welfare of the non-white populations who had been neglected for nearly half of the century. Nelson Mandela was still in prison, clean water and sanitation barely existed, and AIDS was beginning to orphan an entire generation.
The acting ensemble includes Zuri Alexander, Virtic Emil Brown, Lisa Dobbyn, Terrance Ellis, Zehra Fazal, Matt Fowler, Safia Hakim, Eamon Hunt, Allison Reeves, Rea Segoati, and Cary Thompson, all of whom create a heartfelt and heartbreaking story in which their lives are intertwined on both sides of apartheid.
The Mothers, as they become to be known, are made up three women working toward the betterment of forgotten black children with no hope of a better future living in a place where dreams vanish like the smoke from a cigarette. Each of the three actresses brings their heart and soul into their role, pulling you into their lives and heartbreak. Helen Silverman (Lisa Dobbyn) is a Jewish humanist with medical training. Sr. Bertha (Zuri Alexander) is a black medical assistant who gives up her much-valued hospital position to assist Helen in her missionary work, and Tutu (Allison Reeves) is a young black woman who escapes working on a farm and from the farmer (Matt Fowler) who preys upon pretty, young black girls, to search for her mother Millie (Rea Segoati) in Cape Town where she finds her purpose in life is much more than working as a dishwasher at an elite British Yacht Club.
Zehra Fazal portrays two characters that add more understanding to the many factions at play during the time period. Miss Kittridge is the hospital administrator who tells Helen to just give the "sick, little black kids" a few pills and send them on their way, making a few not4es in their files and never admitting them to the hospital overnight. Fazal's hard-as-nails portrait of a woman with no soul is in stark contrast to her role as a Muslim Woman who puts aside her fears and approaches the Mothers for help with her disabled son, even through she has never before spoken to a Jewish or black woman. The love she bears her son takes her past what is expected of her, leading her to join The Mothers in their work.
Religion also comes into play for Helen (Lisa Dobbyn) when she is confronted by her Rabbi (Matt Fowler) who begs her to stop courting backlash against the Jews due to her progressive social work with poor blacks. Keep to your own kind seems to be his motto - the exact attitude that kept apartheid in place.
Trevor David has never appeared in a play before, having spent many a Sunday beating the drums at the famous Venice Beach drum circle. After returned from a decade in Japan, he heard about the audition for a drummer and the rest is history. His steady beat moves the action from scene to scene and adds to the emotional depth of every situation, as does the magnificent light designed by Michael Gend and multi-dimensional set designed by Gary Lee Reed. Costumes designed by Wendell C. Carmichael reflect each character's personality, often allowing actors to disappear completely into their many roles.
THE HUMAN SPIRIT will open your eyes to a part of world history not taught in our society, and then it will make you realize the same horrors will persist in the world until people rise up and make a difference.
The World Premiere of THE HUMAN SPIRIT continues through June 29, 2014 with performances on Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, and Sundays at 3pm. It is a guest production at The Odyssey Theatre located at 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90025. Tickets are $30 at http://www.plays411.com/human or 323-960-4412
For more information: http://www.thehumanspirit-thebook.com
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