B y J a n a R i v e r a
LOCAL PLAYWRIGHT PATRICK Baliani, sets his latest play, A Namib Spring, in the austere desert of Namibia on March 20, 1990, the eve of Namibia's independence. After a 10-year absence, June, an American, has returned to Namibia to join the celebration of a country she's lived in and loved in the past.
It soon becomes apparent, however, that June searches for more than a celebration. She's a woman swirling with extreme pain, guilt and sadness, and she's searching for answers and maybe just a little relief from the ache.
We discern June's anguish from the moment she enters the scene, not because of anything she says necessarily, but because the character is portrayed by Cynthia Meier.
Meier's performance soars to a level of perfection as the tormented June, a role that easily could be botched if attacked too anxiously. Meier, an ensemble member of Bloodhut Productions, gives June just the right touch to successfully unearth a bundle of emotions that have left her teetering on the edge.
June's torment from the disappearance and death of her child, and a marriage breakup, erupts amid Namibia's struggle to end apartheid. When she returns to the British Consul residence, where she once resided with her British diplomat husband, she's equally elated and dismayed to find Edison, her former domestic servant and old friend, still employed in the same capacity.
She's troubled by Edison's refusal to embrace Namibia's independence and the majority party responsible for the new democratic order. After all, if he doesn't act as expected--with anger toward the treatment of blacks over the years and jubilation toward the future--she cannot find relief for the guilt she's experiencing from the years she employed him as a servant while requiring him to live in servants' quarters on the residence, away from his family.
"You've earned the right to speak out, you know," she tells him.
"Then surely as well, the right to be silent," he replies.
In fact, in addition to not feeding her needs by getting angry, Edison, giving in to the subservience he's known throughout his life, expresses gratitude for being in her employ. This, in turn, causes June more guilt--guilt for simply being white in a time of blatant racism and inequality--and as the emotions of apartheid and her daughter's death rage and mix inside her, she struggles to hang on to shreds of reality.
Edison is elegantly portrayed by Darwin, last seen in a.k.a.'s The America Play. Now, as then, he carries his character with extraordinary stature and grace. With only the slightest facial movement he's able to transmit a bevy of emotions.
D.J. Sims portrays Ndlela, Edison's politically idealistic daughter, and David Kennedy plays June's ex-husband, Kenneth.
Baliani's discourse moves at an exceedingly slow pace, but the language is poetic and beautiful. He sometimes follows a tendency to prolong an idea several beats beyond what's necessary for us to grasp and digest it. But for the most part, his lyrical words keep us intrigued.
Baliani, who also directs, chooses to perform A Namib Spring in the round at the PCC Black Box Theatre. Unfortunately, this choice detracts from the dialogue. For a play that relies almost solely upon language spoken by actors with revealing facial expressions, a format that ensures the characters will have their backs turned to a portion of the audience at all times is questionable. At times, the soft words are simply lost.
I also question a 15-minute intermission in a single-setting play with no time lapse, a play that could be edited to 90 minutes or less and easliy run without an intermission. Once you've gained the attention of your audience, why let it go?
PCC Drama Department's production of A Namib Spring continues with performances at 8 p.m. through November 18. All performances are at the PCC West Campus Black Box Theatre, 2202 W. Anklam Road. Tickets are $8, $7 for PCC students. For reservations call 326-7354.
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