Theatre Students Shine
Sizwe Bansi is Dead
By Bekah Oester
The Bowie State University Theatre through the department of fine and performing arts presented brilliant performances of the play Sizwe Bansi is Dead by Athol Fugard, John Kani, and Winston Ntshona last week.
The play starred BSU students and theatre veterans Jared Shamberger, a senior, and sophomore Gabriel "Tsion" Bennett, who have been in previous school productions including last spring's Two Trains Running.
Sizwe Bansi is Dead is an eye-opening play set in South Africa that deals with the racial discrimination against and treatment of black South Africans. During the time the play took place, all blacks in South Africa were required to carry passbooks which showed the areas in South Africa where they were or were not permitted to be, similar to the passes that the original free blacks in America were required to carry with them. The title character finds himself in a predicament because of this "pass law:" he must work to support his family, but the stamp in his passbook requires him to only reside in one town where no jobs are available. While hiding from the law, he meets a man named Buntu who agrees to temporarily house him until he decides how to handle the situation. The two men discover a dead man one evening who has a perfect passbook on his body. This presents Bansi with an opportunity to stay in town and work to support his family, but the choice isn't an easy one. "I don't want to lose my name!" he laments.
While the play is political and addresses a grave issue, there is much comedic relief to make it enjoyable. The play is packed with innuendos and silly moments that provoke giggles from the audience, who enjoy the play up close in a theatre-in-the-round style setting. Many lines are also eye-opening and inspiring, such as when the character Styles notes that, as a black in South Africa, "we own nothing except ourselves." Bansi wonders upon discovery of the dead man, "who cares for who in this world?" Perhaps the most shocking, yet moving line of the show is when Buntu tells Bansi that if he takes the man's passbook, his troubles will be over, to which he responds, "A black man, stay out of trouble? Our skin is trouble!"
Audience members reacted favorably to the play. Freshman Kellye Beathea, 18, said the show was "very nice" and that the execution of the play and set changes was "really interesting." Her only disappointment was the minimal turnout in the audience.
Bennett, who played the title role, was very enthusiastic about the show. "It challenges you as an actor," he said. He was also happy at the timing of the show, which opened the day after Barack Obama was elected. Bennett said it made a racial statement that "exceeds what your passbook can do."
Shamberger, who followed the tradition of playing the roles of both Styles and Buntu was also happy about the performance. He said the small show encourages camaraderie among the cast and crew. "It really is a team," he said. Shamberger also noted some difficulties that had to be overcome for an exceptional performance, including lines (the show opens with a very long monologue by Styles), and African accents which both actors pulled off exceptionally well thanks to immersion using movies and a dialect tape.
The show ran seven performances from Nov. 5-9 in the Samuel Myers Auditorium. For more on performances by BSU theatre, visit their website at http://bsutheatre.blogspot.com.