Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Sizwe Banzi vs. The Rant

First published at the Broad Street Review:

Last week I saw both the Lantern’s and Interact Theatre’s respective productions of Sizwe Bansi is Dead and The Rant. While both were expertly directed and featured formidable performances of plots driven by moral-issues, one of them felt dated and of little consequence, while the other found continuing and universal relevance.

I saw the Lantern’s production of Athol Fugard’s play first, which portrayed the young worker Sizwe Bansi (Lawrence Stallings) imprisoned inside the machinations of South Africa’s apartheid system. The stamps in his government-issued passbook restrict him to work in Port Elizabeth, where he’s supposed to live with his wife and four children. But there’s no work there, so he has journeyed to New Brighton, where he can’t work because the local bureaucrats won’t give him a permit. While he’s out drinking with Buntu (Forrest McClendon), they stumble upon a recently murdered corpse, and the situation presents the innocent Sizwe with a rogue dilemma: either steal the dead man’s passbook and find work, or continue to live as a fugitive from the state.

Andrew Case’s The Rant appears less straightforward. Denise Reeves, an African-American woman (Kimberly S. Fairbanks), claims to have seen the white police sergeant Clark murder her autistic teenage son on her front porch, with the assistance of the black cop Simmons (Aldo Billingslea). The New York Police department buries the investigation, so Reeves turns to Lila Mahnaz (Elena Araoz), who heads a civilian review board that handles complaints and oversees internal police investigations. Mahnaz believes Reeve’s version and launches a personal crusade against Simmons, sensationalizing the case with the assistance of Alexander Stern (David Ingram), a cynical crime reporter. In a post-modern era, where truth is considered “another type of bias,” the question of “Who’s watching the watchmen?” takes on considerable moral significance.

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