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SAN DIEGO
Regional Reviews by Bill Eadie

Since Africa
The Old Globe

Since Africa
Kristin Carpenter, Warner Miller and Linda Gehringer (behind)
To write that Mia McCullough's play, Since Africa, means well feels like a statement that damns with faint praise. And yet, this tale of finding oneself in America, while clearly laudable in concept, plods in its execution. The production at San Diego's Old Globe also means well but can't overcome the difficulty of trying to tell a story that ends not all that far from where it began.

Diane MacIntyre (Linda Gehringer), a recently widowed Chicago North Shore socialite, volunteers to assist with helping Ater Dahl (Warner Miller), one of the "Lost Boys of Sudan," to re-settle. In doing so, the non-religious Diane has a series of run-ins with Reggie Hudson (Willie C. Carpenter), a Deacon of St. Bartholomew's Catholic Church, which has provided an apartment for a group of Sudanese young men. Diane also has a daughter, Eve (Ashley Clements), who grieves the loss of her father and plots to find a way of removing herself from her mother's influence. Meanwhile, The Nameless One (Kristin D. Carpenter) hovers around the scene, providing a spiritual connection to Ater's African roots, a connection that both Diane and Deacon Hudson each yearn to make, for their own reasons.

Things develop slowly, slowly. In act one, Ater arrives knowing nothing of American culture, and both Diane and Deacon Hudson make missteps in adapting to his culture while helping him to adapt to theirs (though Diane and Deacon Hudson come from very different worlds within that culture). Eve starts to connect with Ater, but the connection always seems tenuous and never really goes anywhere. In act two, Ater becomes more acclimated and gets himself into some difficulties as he becomes more confident in exploring and reacting to his surroundings. Eve reveals why she has a scar on one arm, and Diane and Deacon Hudson come to a détente in their relationship after an honest discussion about each other's values. Ater and Deacon Hudson receive letters that provide connections to Africa, and each one handles those connections differently. Eve, too, receives a letter, one that will take her off in a different direction. Diane realizes that the connection she thought she had with Africa might be different from what she imagined, and each of the characters move into new phases of their lives by the play's end. The characters have all affected each other, and they have all changed, but the changes seem more individual and internal, and the characters relationships with each other end in the same well-meaning state as in the play's beginning.

San Diego's Old Globe Theatre has invited the Mo'olelo Performing Arts Company's Co-Founder and Artistic Director Seem Sueko to direct this production.  Ms. Sueko directed a Mo'olelo version of Since Africa in 2006, and in this version she keeps the pace of the play moving to no avail; the flat writing and slow-moving plot bogs the cast down. She is not helped much by Nick Fouch's overly-busy set, though Charlotte Devaux has designed realistic but clever costumes that sum up each character's circumstances in a glance. The actors mostly succeed in playing what Ms. McCullough has given them with a good deal of expertise. The exception is Ms. Carpenter's movement-based Nameless One. Ms. Carpenter tries to bring life to the proceedings with her movements, but they feel too big for such a small-scale show.

San Diego has a large (more than 3,500-person) Sudanese refugee community, and the Old Globe plans to reach out to that community through this production. Like the play itself, the plan is an admirable one, and my hope would be that these audiences will find the production to be more than just faintly praiseworthy. I doubt that the same will be true for the Globe's regular patrons, however.

The Old Globe presents Since Africa. Performances through March 8 at the James S. Copley Auditorium of the San Diego Museum of Art, in Balboa Park adjacent to the Old Globe campus. Tickets available through the Old Globe Box Office at (619) 23-GLOBE, or online at the Globe's website.

Since Africa, by Mia McCullough. Directed by Seema Sueko, with Scenic Design by Nick Fouch, Costume Design by Charlotte Devaux, Lighting Design by Jason Bieber, and Sound Design by Paul Peterson. Claudia Hill-Sparks provided voice and dialect coaching, and Moira Gleason is the stage manager.

With Kristin D. Carpenter as The Nameless One, Linda Gehringer as Diane MacIntyre, Ashley Clements as Eve MacIntyre, Warner Miller as Ater Dahl, and Willie C. Carpenter as Reggie Hudson.


Photo: Craig Schwartz

See the current theatre season schedule for the San Diego area.

- Bill Eadie



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