Also see Sharon's review of The Fantasticks
In apartheid-era South Africa, TuTu (Allison Reeves) leaves a farm for the big city to find her birth mother, but ends up finding a cause. Millie's (Rea Segoati) young husband unexpectedly dies and she has to fend for herself. White Jewish Helen (Lisa Dobbyn) starts bringing medicine to black townships from her hospital job with the help of nun Sister Bertha (Zuri Alexander). These four women meet and form an aid organization "The Mamas," which helps countless children, women and handicapped people, at a time when these things could mean a jail sentence or death from the government.
Reeves conveys TuTu's early innocence and later tough fašade with skill, and Dobbyn brings poise and charm to the otherwise somewhat one-note role of Helen. Alexander excels at showing Bertha's initial polite disbelief in Helen's intentions, but Segoati isn't given enough to do in the underwritten role of Millie. Zehra Fazal, Safia Hakim and Cary Thompson all impress in multiple roles.
Donald Squires' staging keeps things lively, and Gary Lee Reed's shantytown set is colorful and effective. The problems with the show lie within the writing, which is perhaps too ambitious in its aims to not only tell this specific story but also a general history of apartheid at the same time. Eglash-Kosoff uses exposition to shoehorn in historical data and to jump over time gaps, which results in a story more told than shown. Her dialogue is more earnest than realistic, and the many characters get shortchanged simply due to time constraints. There is a great story in this material, but The Human Spirit doesn't completely do it justice.
The Human Spirit plays at the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble through June 29, 2014, at 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd, Los Angeles. For tickets and information, see www.odysseytheatre.com/.
CEK Productions presents The Human Spirit, written by Carole Eglash-Kosoff. Directed by Donald Squires. Set Design Gary Lee Reed; Costume Design Wendell C. Carmichael; Lighting Design Michael Gend; Musical Director Zuri Alexander; Stage Manager Jerry A. Blackburn.