Off Broadway (and sometimes Broadway) Reviews and Information.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Red Valley: The Color of Despair

RED Soil Productions is a new theatre company founded to showcase new works and tell stories that American culture might never hear, based on real life material.  Red Valley is one of their first works, created to tell the story of the Mau Mau rebellion in colonial Kenya.  Based on this emotional piece, RED Soil has an excellent future ahead of it.
Red Valley tells its story in layers, opening with the “peaceful” transplanted Brits being attacked by hooded African Mau Mau killers.  And it finds a simple expository tool in the British child Charlotte (played with wide eyed innocence by Rachel Jane).  Charlotte is closer to the African farm help than she is to her mother, and asks why these things are happening. 
Matthew Vitticore as Jack and Aimee Marcelle as Beth in Red Valley

As explained by Flora and Joseph, we come to understand that there are (at least) two major tribes in Kenya, the Maasi and the Kikuyu, both of whom want their land and their way of life back from the settlers.  But only the Maasi have launched a rebellin to get it back  It is a very bloody rebellion, killing both the British and the Kikuyu that will not join them.  Richard Nwaoko, who plays Joseph, shines with an easy warmth that spreads through-out the room. Joanna Kasamba, who plays Flora, is a beautiful and delicate creature who, later in the play, displays a very strong will.
Joanna Kasamba as Flora
Almost a mirror to the two tribes of African Kenyans, Charlotte’s own parents represent the two types of British settlers.  Her father Jack, played well by Matthew Vitticore, is a quietly charming man who has  embraced the lifestyle of African farmer, but realizes it is coming to an end.  However Jack is overwhelmed emotionally and in resolve by Beth, his wife.
Aimee Marcelle is amazing as Beth, a hard woman trying to keep the farm running with little help from her husband and little loyalty from her daughter.  She is tough, angry and, most of all, determined.  Ms. Marcelle makes Beth feel human in rare, momentary glimpses of venerability, which she immediately quashes.  It is as if Beth is repulsed by any show of self-doubt in herself or others.  She lashes out quickly and often.
This is the one problem with the show.  Beth is the center of attention and action, but she is a rather terrible person.  We can infer why she behaves like this, and a speech late in the show sheds a little more light, but we cannot relate to her.  Playwright Matthew Stannah is walking a fine line here, pulling the audience to identify with the settlers, but not too much.  After all they have taken land that is not rightfully theirs and displaced the indigenous people.
Beth is willing to give up everything to keep the farm and stay on the land in Red Valley.  She has fallen in love with the beauty of Africa, but not the Africans - whom she treats with remarkably little respect or graciousness.  Ms. Marcelle does an excellent job of keeping Beth from falling into a caricature of evil, always imbuing the character with a sense of purpose.
Director Yudelka Heyer has given Red Valley a nice simple structure, allowing the audience to figure out right and wrong without spelling it out in giant letters.  Red Valley brings to life a story we rarely hear about, and one that might place parallels to our own Western Expansion in an entirely new light.  Well done.
Red Valley
Playwright: Matthew Stannah
Director: Yudelka Heyer
Cast: Aimee Marcelle, Matthew Vitticore, Rachel Jane, Joanna Kasamba, Richard Nwaoko, Brian Clancy, Steven Daniel, Miles Alexander, Christopher Willis, Kristen Wulf, James Physick

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