Play considers birth of a nation

Leigh E. Rich

Arizona Daily Wildcat

March 21, 1990, Namibia Africa's last colony became its youngest nation. The South West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO) ended South Africa's racist rule and laws of separation. "A Namib Spring," Patrick Baliani's latest play, dissects this "birth of a nation," reminding us that "democracy . will not ensure peace." He examines the fear, the possibilities and the apprehension of "the day following tomorrow."

"A Namib Spring" explores the consequences of transformation on an individual level, a generational level, and a national level. Set in the courtyard of the British Consul's Residence in Windhoek, the capital of Namibia, the play involves an American woman's return to Namibia on the eve of its independence. While she (June) battles her inner torment after the murder of her child, Namibia struggles with its newly gained independence. June, who once lived in the British Consul's Residence with her husband Kenneth, seeks out her stoic and wise friend Edison, once her African servant.

She is surprised to find Edison so unruffled by the revolution. Decked all in white with polished black shoes that somehow don't quite fit him, Edison is an "unshakable man." But he battles his desire to return to the old ways before apartheid. He prides himself on his ability to support his family, although his first born, Ndlela, disagrees with him. She is an idealist, high on the future and its possibilities. And the interactions and experiences of these three characters help each other to heal.

June, embracing the grief of losing a child, encourages Ndlela to reunite with Edison, the father she feels abandoned her. Edison's secret pain shows the two women the sufferings parents face for their children. And Ndlela's hope for a more fertile Namibia gives hope to the infertile June.

"A Namib Spring" comments on the interconnectedness of all living things. "Funny how we all live in our own little worlds," yet Baliani demonstrates that they are strikingly similar. In the first act, June has flashbacks to her life in Britain with Kenneth. They moved there after the birth of their daughter, falsely believing it to be a safer environment. Britain and Namibia both appear very tenuous, very much the same. Concerning the conditions of his country, June asks Edison, "Why is it that there has never been rage in your eyes?" Edison replies, "There need be no rage if you see yourself in every living thing."

Baliani's writing is succinct he doesn't waste words and he somehow manages to weave double meanings into almost every line. When Edison wonders why June has only brought one bag, she replies, "I brought myself, that's baggage enough." He also uses his language to create the atmosphere. During the flashbacks to Britain, the lines are reserved and direct. In Namibia, however, Baliani's lines are delivered like poetry. Edison becomes a mouthpiece for the playwright himself, like the fool in Shakespeare. His words are prophetic and reflexive; he informs June that "it is difficult enough understanding Edison."

Baliani directs a powerful cast. D.J. Sims' vitality and vim energizes Ndlela her presence consumes the stage. Cynthia Meier's torment as June is haunting; Darwin's sultry James Earl Jones voice and masterful body language make Edison ethereal; and David Kennedy's cameo as the reserved Kenneth is memorable. Concerning the death of their daughter, Kenneth tells his wife, "It's my guilt, too" perhaps a reference that the onus of inequality, even if in another country, belongs to us all.

"A Namib Spring" juxtaposes birth and death, suggesting that they are both painful and liberating, that they are the same. And in "a world that has grown smaller," Baliani's play is a reminder that we are all the same. Although Namibia's revolution occurred five years ago (and, in the play, June's loss three years before that), Baliani reminds us that "this sort of time is not so easily discarded." But, he promises, "there's acceptance in the telling." And if we "speak our minds, not our masks," we only "have the world to gain."

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