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BWW Reviews: SIZWE BANZI IS DEAD at McCarter is Extraordinary


An extraordinary play, SIZWE BANZI IS DEAD opened at McCarter Theatre onJanuary 23rd and runs through February 15th. Written by Athol Fugard, John Kani, and Winston Ntshona, this show presents a poignant question that grips the audience: which is more valuable - your identity or hopes for a future?

This powerful theme mirrors the dilemma of many undocumented individuals in the United States today. Under the brilliant direction of John Kani, the two-person cast of Atandwa Kani and Mncedisi Shabangu provides a first-rate characterization of a human struggle involving pride and dignity that transcends time and distance.

Sizwe Banzi (superbly played by Mncedisi Shabangu) wants to remain in Port Elizabeth, South Africa and send money home to his family 150 miles away. Yet his facing deportation proceedings from the government makes it impossible. However, by a twist of fate, he has the opportunity to make both conditions a reality. He simply must choose to sacrifice his identity.

The play opens in 1970 Port Elizabeth with Styles (brilliantly played by Atandwa Kani) engaging the audience, detailing problems of the day that include tension in the Middle East and the cost of petro, again problems still in effect today. His satirical depiction of a dialogue between an industrial plant manager and worker liaison is quite amusing. His pride of subsequently becoming the proprietor of a photography studio is deeply realized.

Pride is also a central theme when Robert Zwelinzima (also played by Shabangu) enters the studio, wearing a poorly fitting white suit, fedora, and has a pipe at hand. Following videographer Styles' direction for a short clip to send home, Zwelinzima's strident gait and poses for the camera are truly entertaining.

The production fluidly flashes back to a period when Buntu (also played by Atwandi Kani) passionately convinces Banzi to adopt a different persona, that of Zwelinzima, because of the realities of living under apartheid. Shabangu's performance is seamless as he transitions from a hesitant character to one beaming with pride.

Atwandi Kani was born in Port Elizabeth, South Africa and studied acting at the University of Witwatersand in Johannesburg, South Africa. Shabangu began his acting career in a small town bordering Mozambique and Swaziland. Given their realistic portrayals of their characters, they might have known Styles, Buntu, and Banzi.

I highly recommend this production - it is not to be missed.

Now playing at the McCarter Theatre through February 15, 2015. Tickets for SIZWE BANZI IS DEAD start at $25 and can be purchased at the McCarter Theatre (91 University Place, Princeton, NJ) and online at

To purchase by phone, please call the Ticket Office: 609-258-2787. Group sales information may be obtained by calling 609-258-6526.

Photo credit: Ruphin Coudyzer

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