Writer/performer Tanya Shaffer has pulled up stakes yet again and is currently camping out in the Bullitt space at A Contemporary Theatre performing her autobiographical one-woman travelogue, Let My Enemy Live Long! A truly restless soul, Tanya admits to being happiest when traveling, and is more than happy to run away from her problems rather than deal with them directly. Let My Enemy Live Long! evolved through productions at several intimate San Francisco Theaters in 1998 and 1999 before it transferred to Berkeley Rep and is now touring the country at various regional theaters. A prolific writer, Tanya has written articles and books about her travels and has toured the country with another solo show, Miss America's Daughters, as well as a six person play, Brigadista, based on her experiences in Nicaragua during the 1990 elections there.
Let my Enemy Live Long! is based on a trip she took seven years ago to West Africa when she joined a group doing volunteer work (mainly, she states, starting structures that none of the African towns even wanted, thus never finished when the projects were handed over to them). Disenchanted with the volunteer organization and its lack of contact with the people they were supposedly assisting, Tanya decided to bail on them and take a side trip to Timbuktu. Instead of taking the traditional tourist route and travelling via plane or steamboat, she traveled with the locals in a pinasse, which she describes as being "a pregnant canoe." The supposed three day journey ended up taking twelve due an accident en route, and the ninety minute show describes her journey to Timbuktu and the people she encountered on the way, especially two men: one an ex-convict, the other an aspiring Christian minister who befriended her and vied for her attentions.
The show is simple in terms of costume (a billowing blouse/pant African print ensemble designed by Keri Fitch), sets (benches and crates moved about by Tanya and designed by Mikiko Uesugi and Richard Olmsted, who also designed the lights) and narrative style. Basically, the piece is a travelogue detailing her experiences and the people she met along the way who are brought to vivid life, thanks to Tanya's exceptional mimicking skills. The complexity of the piece comes through her exploration of race and gender relations, and interactions and the discovery that the belief in universality can prove to be a dangerous fallacy.
A great deal of the atmosphere in the play came about thanks to the wonderful Kofi Anang, who acted as a one-man sound effects studio and orchestra. The African movement inspired choreography by Shakiri also gave the piece a strong feel of locale and kept the energy level highly charged.
Overall, Let My Enemy Live Long! is a highly enjoyable piece with a good balance between entertainment and thought provoking insights. Tanya is an engaging performer, especially when bringing to life the various characters she met on her journey. The interactions between her and the folks she met were vivid and exciting, however when she addressed the audience directly, she had a tendency to sound scripted and wooden. But her remarkable ear for language and her ability to capture the rhythms and music of the people around her makes one feel that he or she has gone on a journey as well.