We went a saw 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 at the Artists Repertory Theater.
Most of my life has been spent in Portland and for some reason I have never ventured into the area just south of the Providence –see how we spend your Health Care Insurance dollars– Park.
It is a nice venue, with a bar, a pianist preforming before the show, art on the wall, and several stages.
The play? Not so much.
I knew we were in trouble when there was a slip of paper in the program with a high school essay question: Can you walk in another person’s shoes? Discuss. Good art should not require prior prompting to understand the themes; it should stand on its own merits.
It is difficult to write about is art when the response is ‘meh’. If you despise or love food or music or a movie or a play or a beer, it is easy and fun to write about. If art generates apathy, it is more difficult. What can be said about a Bud Light? Is it really a beer? Discuss.
The actors were excellent, I thought they did a good job, but they were given weak material. I suspect I would have enjoyed the play more if we had not seen Stupid Fucking Birds. We are proud suffers in comparison. I left SFB reflecting on the ideas and characters of the play , I left We are proud reflecting on the inadequacy of the material.
Good art takes you out of yourself and you forget you are watching a performance. Good art is immersive, transporting you to other times and places. They whole time I was aware I was watching a play in a seat in a theater, going nowhere.
Much of the intellectual meat of the production, topics of race, empathy, what it means to be black, the banality of evil, were consistently cut off by the main character, Black Woman (her name), who did not want any substantive conversation to continue between characters as it meant conflict. This led to most of the dialog in this part of the play giving transient lip service to the themes of the play. If the author had expanded on these conversations and interactions, it may have made a better play: the performers reactions to their material as they tried to come to grips with the German genocide in Namibia and its reflection upon race in modern America. The writing and acting in these scenes was superior and could have been been a contender. It coulda been something, instead of a bore, which is what it was, let’s face it.
Instead, the actors ‘improved’ reactions and impressions of the events of the Namibian genocide, sometimes translating them into the US South. It didn’t work. And often, as in the final scene, it was too loud with other sounds from the production (drumming and marching) to actually understand the dialog. These scenes preferred the heavy handed approach of mimicking whippings, shootings, and a lynching. They went for the cheap, visceral approach rather than the more difficult, nuanced, approach of dialog and character.
And the problem with moving the action from Africa to the US south is it makes the issues still about ‘them’, what ‘they’ did, rather than about ‘us’, and what ‘we’ do. Good art takes the specific and makes it universal. This play takes the specific, keeps it specific and narrows the experience when it moves from Africa to the South. Wrong direction. The reality is that evil can be performed by anyone, in any culture, given the right opportunity and situation. The play protects the audience from the understanding that there but for the grace of god go I. It was those terrible German/Southern racists. I would never do anything like that. It is the awful behavior of others, not me.
One of the movies I have always hated is ET because I could feel being so obviously manipulated. I go to art to be manipulated, but I don’t want to recognize it as it is happening. I wee bit of subtlety, missing in this play, goes further.
It wasn’t a bad play, I am glad I saw it, parts were interesting, but in the end it just didn’t work, either as good art or as a platform for understanding genocide or racism. I try to enjoy things for what they are, not what I wish they could be. This play reminded me of what it could have been if the author had not relied on cheap thrills over dialog and character.
They are having discussions about the themes of the play after some of the performances. Thin gruel for an intellectual meal.
After the play we went up the block to the Driftwood Room at the Hotel Delux.
This is one cool bar. Instead of the industrial wood and metal that is common in PDX, it has a plush 50’s vibe, with a curved bar in the front and a sinuous cloth couch and tables along the walls. It is a small bar, room for 30 people tops, but dark and romantic. A great place for a first date.
The service is superb and friendly, in formal black and white attire. I ordered the Bartenders Mood: whatever she wanted to make. I was asked if I wanted something shaken or stirred. I opted for shaken and received a bourbon, vermouth, lemon drink that was fantastic enough to order a second. I like it when one of the options is Bartenders Surprise. It is a chance to wander outside of my comfort zone.
For food I went for the croque monsieur, a grilled French ham and cheese sandwich with a salad. Perfect. The only problem with bar food is there is usually no dessert option. I guess that is why you order a second drink.
Of all the bars we have visited so far, this one is at the top of the list for food, drinks, atmosphere and service. It’s only problem is that it is not near any place we are likely to visit soon. Maybe they can make a Happy Valley extension? I will not hold my breath.