Les Blancs Review - The True Cost of Colonialism

LES BLANCS is the final work of gifted author Lorraine Hansberry before her untimely death when she was only 34 years old. After she died in 1964, the piece was completed by her ex-husband, with whom she always maintained a cordial working relationship, and was first performed posthumously in 1970. Even though Hansberry termed it her most important play, it was panned by critics and produced only intermittently thereafter. In 2017, the Rogue Machine took on the monumental task of performing this huge and complex production  - with stellar results. The world has changed significantly since 1970 – and it may be that today’s audiences are finally ready to receive and fully appreciate LES BLANCS.

Les Blanc Ensemble - Photo by John Perrin Flynn

Lorraine Hansberry was born in Chicago to a wealthy family. Since both her parents were political activists, she rubbed shoulders with multiple civil rights luminaries as a child. Her most famous play, “Raisin in the Sun,” earned her the New York Drama Critics Circle Award when she was only 29 years old, the youngest person, the fifth female, and the first black woman to ever receive the award. When cancer claimed her in her early 30’s, she had huge quantities of plays, books, poetry, and essays which she was working on. LES BLANCS was one of these pieces.

Desean Kevin Terry, Aric Floyd, and Matt Orduno - Photo by John Perrin Flynn

LES BLANCS is Hansberry’s only play set entirely in Africa. Hansberry has also woven music and dance into her tale. When journalist Charles Morris (Jason McBeth) comes to Africa to see for himself what is going on, his reception is both exciting and surprising. Madame Neilsen (Ann Gee Byrd), the wife of the founder of “the mission,” has lived most of her years in Africa and has used the time to expand her understanding of the culture and needs of the local tribes. Now, old and blind, she is seen as a sort of “mother” to the local blacks. When Tshembe Matoseh (Desean Kevin Terry) returns to Africa from London for his father’s funeral, he is confronted with an Africa which, in some ways, has not changed – while, in other ways, has become a different place.

Rosney Mauger, Bill Brochtrup, Jason McBeth, and Matthew Lindberg - Photo by John Perrin Flynn

This is a story of assimilation and separateness, a study of blacks and whites on a continent which has been “civilized” by white settlers who have imposed their own “right” ways on the indigenous populations. To mission founder Reverend Nielsen, they will always be his “children,” with the rights of beloved but perhaps also backward children. It is also the story of repression and a longing for true freedom and self-determination. When the opposing desires clash, LES BLANCS is born.

Trenton Lucas, Jason McBeth, and Fiona Hardingham - Photo by John Perrin Flynn

Director Gregg T. Daniel has done a superb job of conveying the multiple, complex dynamics - some on the surface and some far beneath - of this motley group of people who come together in a small, simple mid-twentieth century village setting. From the Protector of White Rights, Major George Rice (Bill Brochtrup) to the obsequious, innocuous Peter (Amir Abdullah) - from the totally assimilated Abioseh Matoseh (Matt Orduna), who had donned the Christian cross and cassock, to his as-good-as invisible brother Eric (Aric Floyd), whose skin suggests a white DNA contribution – all are in for a merry ride in this explosive tale. And each of the actors is clearly up to the task of conveying the ins and outs of this subtle and sometimes terrifying transition. And let’s not forget Jelani Blunt, percussionist extraordinaire, who greets us as we enter the theater, underscores the action as it progresses to its inevitable finale, and signals the ending with unflagging energy and expertise. Finally, special kudos to The Woman (Shari Gardner), who keeps the conflicts flowing with the sinuous movements of her supple body.

Shari Gardner, Desean Kevin Terry, and Jelani Blunt - Photo by John Perrin Flynn

Stephanie Kerley Schwartz’s scenic design brilliantly highlights the action, as do Derrick McDaniel’s lighting, Jeff Gardner’s original music and sound, Joyce Guy’s choreography, and Wendell C. Carmichael’s costumes. The entire production team handles the complexity of this play with skill and creativity.

SPLASH SELECTION

LES BLANCS runs through July 3, 2017, with performances at 8 p.m. on Saturdays and Mondays and at 8 p.m. on Sundays. The Rogue Machine is located in the Met Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90029. Tickets are $40. For information and reservations, call 855-585-5185 or go online.

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