Attending opening night of The Human Spirit, I had no idea the play would evoke such painful memories of an era I experienced during my thirty-six years in South Africa. Arriving in 1957 as a young newly-wed, I lived in a small, predominantly gold-mining town in the Western Transvaal, a virtual hotbed of Apartheid development and activity. Almost daily, new stringent restrictions were imposed on the non-white majority, who regularly suffered unwarranted brutality at the hands of both uniformed police and ordinary citizens. The Rivonia trials and Nelson Mandela’s imprisonment evoked disbelief and a sense of doom. I felt certain that wealthy South Africa, leader of the African continent, had started on an inexorable downward spiral!
Carole Eglash-Kosoff’s play, The Human Spirit, is a well portrayed dramatization of true stories from the egregious South African Apartheid era, and of the men and women who tirelessly devoted their lives, publicly, or clandestinely, to support that country’s most disadvantaged. The non-white populations had been neglected for nearly half of the century, Nelson Mandela was still in prison, clean water and sanitation barely existed, and AIDS was beginning to orphan an entire generation.
Often putting their own, and their family’s lives in danger, the “Mamas,” ordinary women in a black township, defied the rules by banding together and doing everything possible to ease the suffering and misery of the voiceless, victimized, and severely restricted non-white populations.
Lisa Dobbyn plays Helen Silverman, a Jewish humanist with medical training. She rebels against the hospital policy of giving the “sick, little black kids” a few pills, making a few notes in their files, and sending them on their way—admitting them overnight is strictly forbidden. Zuri Alexander plays Bertha, a black medical assistant who gives up her valuable hospital position to assist Helen. Allison Reeves plays Tutu, who escapes the farm where she lives with her loving grandmother, and from the farmer who preys on young, attractive black girls. She goes to search for her mother in Cape Town, working for a while as a dishwasher at an elite British Yacht Club before discovering her real life-purpose.
The story is both heartbreaking and uplifting, with moments of wry humor, as parties from both sides of Apartheid work selflessly together to achieve, against all odds, unbelievably positive results, despite poor conditions, lack of finance, and serious harassment by authorities. The actors each play different parts, changing costumes and persona smoothly on a well-appointed stage with no curtain drops.
Drummer Trevor David has spent many a Sunday beating the drums at the famous Venice Beach drum circle. Upon returning from a decade in Japan, he attended the audition and secured the role, adding mood and color to each scene with constant and varying drumbeats. Lighting effects, costume design, and stage setting all deserve special mention. All round a highly recommended, important production.
The Human Spirit was written by Carole Eglash-Kosoff, directed by Donald Squires, and produced by Racquel Lehrman (Theatre Planners). This production stars Zuri Alexander, Virtic Emil Brown, Trevor David, Lisa Dobbyn, Terrance Ellis, Zehra Fazal, Matt Fowler, Safia Hakim, Eamon Hunt, Allison Reeves, Rea Segoati, and Cary Thompson. Production staff includes Victoria Watson (Associate Producer), Gary Lee Reed (Set Designer), Michael Gend (Lighting Designer), Jon Jackson (Sound Designer), and Jerry A Blackburn (Stage Manager).
The Human Spirit is a guest production at the Odyssey Theatre
Schedule: Fridays and Saturdays at8pm, Sundays at 3pm.
Closes: June 29, 2014
Or phone: 323 960 4412
ODYSSEY THEATRE, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd,
Los Angeles, CA 90025