Theatre Preview: Race, intolerance, and a play within a play
Bob Fischbach / Omaha World Herald
A play within a play often appeals to theater types. It features actors playing actors, after all, and peeking behind a rehearsal curtain can be appealing.
Noah Diaz appeared last March in a staged reading of Jackie Sibblies Drury’s “We Are Proud to Present a Presentation About the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as South West Africa, From the German Sudwestafrika, Between the Years 1884-1915,” part of the Omaha Community Playhouse’s 21 & Over season of adult alternative programming.
Diaz took the script to SNAP! Productions, which stages plays centered on themes of tolerance – or, in this case, intolerance festering beneath a socially polite veneer. The play covers some of the same incendiary ground about racial tension between blacks and whites in America as “Clybourne Park,” another show SNAP! did.
SNAP! snapped up Diaz’s pitch, and the show opens tonight. In his first directing gig, Diaz shares duties with veteran M. Michele Phillips.
“We Are Proud to Present…” centers on a group of young amateur actors who want to dramatize the first genocide of the 20th century. As they explore explosive issues of race, violence and colonialism, the group’s participants come face to face with demons that hit too close to home.
“Because these actors haven’t the foggiest idea how to make their story work in a true, historical fashion, that makes it pretty fun,” Phillips said. “Some are a little neurotic, some aggressive, and watching the different personalities clash is fun to watch.”
Diaz said he’d never seen a play like it.
“It’s probably one of the only plays I’ve read that tackles racism through the eyes of the millennial generation, people my age,” said Diaz, who is in his early 20s. “We think we don’t have a direct connection to racism. We think we’re past that, and we’re not. That’s what’s so interesting about this play. I understood the script immediately when I read it.”
Michal Simpson, SNAP’s artistic director, said the way the characters become caught up in a mob mentality made the play perfect for the production company’s mission of promoting tolerance. “It keeps moving and changing and making you refocus and re-evaluate,” he said.
“It’s a play about going too far and then wondering how you got there,” Diaz said. “The script is so funny, but it also goes to some really terrifying places. This cast is hilarious – but it can handle the darker material as well.”