Bay Area Theater Preview: BREAKFAST WITH MUGABE (Aurora Theatre Company)

by Tony Frankel on November 10, 2014

in Theater-San Francisco / Bay Area

Post image for Bay Area Theater Preview: BREAKFAST WITH MUGABE (Aurora Theatre Company)

HAUNTED BY POWER

Aurora Theatre once again proves its might by presenting the West Coast Premiere of a great play. Opening this week and running through Dec. 7, 2014, Breakfast with Mugabe takes on one of the most vilified but fascinating characters in world politics: Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe.

L. Peter Callender and Dan Hiatt in Aurora Theatre Company’s West Coast Premiere of Breakfast with Mugabe.

A polarizing figure on the world stage, Mugabe, who turned 90 last February, has been hailed as a revolutionary hero by many in his country. However, the West basically considers him a tyrant, guilty of corruption and widespread human rights abuses. Once supported by the West, Mugabe was even awarded an honorary knighthood in 1994 by former Prime Minister John Major, stripped by Queen Elizabeth II in 2008. And when Barack Obama hosted a summit of African leaders in an effort to strengthen American ties with the continent last August, Zimbabwe, which desperately needs investment from abroad, was not represented because of Mugabe’s tainted human rights record. Whether or not one agrees with Mugabe and his tactics, it is widely believed here and abroad that absolute power corrupts absolutely. See this report from Voice of America:

English playwright Fraser Grace, who has written for many UK theaters including the Royal Shakespeare Company where Breakfast with Mugabe premiered in 2005, found inspiration for this fascinating play in a British newspaper article. It reported Dr. Peric (r. Dan Hiatt) challenges Robert Mugabe (l. L. Peter Callender) to answer honestly about his past in Aurora Theatre Company’s West Coast Premiere of Breakfast with Mugabeabout a real-life meeting between Mugabe and a white psychiatrist who was called upon to treat the president for a troubling problem: the depressed Mugabe believed he was being stalked by a “ngozi”—the bitter spirit of a murdered comrade. Grace’s play imagines what might have happened behind the closed doors of Harare’s Presidential Palace when they met.

The story is set in 2001, when the Mugabe government infamously began its program of Fast-Track Land Reform, violently forcing white landowners off their land. It was during this time that Mugabe was purportedly seeing the doctor. In the play, Dr. Andrew Peric (who will be played by Dan Hiatt) is a white Zimbabwean of national prestige: a psychiatrist trained by Western methods with a keen knowledge of Shona spirituality.

Grace Mugabe (Leontyne Mbele-Mbong) interrupts Dr. Peric (r. Dan Hiatt) bribing presidential bodyguard Gabriel (c. Adrian Roberts) in Aurora Theatre Company’s West Coast Premiere of Breakfast with Mugabe

Peric soon discovers that anxiety is not Mugabe’s only psychological problem; he also suffers from a bloated ego, perhaps even a messiah complex. A constant struggle takes place between Peric and Mugabe as each vies for authority in their professional relationship (L. Peter Callender, Artistic Director of African-American Shakespeare Company, plays Mugabe). Grace, Mugabe’s sassy and self-assured wife (Leontyne Mbele-Mbong, who makes her Aurora Theatre Company debut), joins the power struggle by pleading with Peric to have Mugabe loosen his stranglehold over her. Adrian Roberts also makes his Aurora debut as Mugabe’s loyal, self-serving bodyguard. Jon Tracy, who helmed Aurora’s productions of Gidion’s Knot and The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity, will direct.

Grace Mugabe (l. Leontyne Mbele-Mbong) describes life with her husband to Dr. Peric (r. Dan Hiatt) in Aurora Theatre Company’s West Coast Premiere of Breakfast with Mugabe

About his work, Fraser Grace says “You try to be accurate and not wildly misrepresent people or their views, but most of all, I try to make sure that what I produce is a genuine drama; the real, living character and their dilemmas have to be explored in a genuinely dramatic way, a way that provokes us to question our assumptions about them without doling out simple judgments.”

L. Peter Callender, Dan Hiatt, and Adrian Roberts in Aurora Theatre Company’s West Coast Premiere of Breakfast with Mugabe..

Whether the article that Grace read was true or not, the concept and the post-colonial puzzle it presented, piqued Grace’s interest. “When Mugabe was in the news, he was portrayed entirely as a monster. And my starting position was that monsters are made, not born,” said Grace. “The play illuminates the tension between modern ideas and ancient beliefs, and questions how a man who was once oppressed becomes an oppressor.” Ultimately, Breakfast with Mugabe is about the complex nature of the mind and a country in crisis; it is a powerful reminder of the lasting impact of colonialism and dictatorships, and those who still struggle under oppressive conditions.

Grace Mugabe (l. Leontyne Mbele-Mbong) has an intimate chat with Dr. Peric (r. Dan Hiatt) about the president’s progress in Aurora Theatre Company’s West Coast Premiere of Breakfast with Mugabe

photos by David Allen

President Mugabe (L. Peter Callender) campaigns for re-election in Aurora Theatre Company’s West Coast Premiere of Breakfast with MugabeBreakfast with Mugabe
West Coast Premiere
Aurora Theatre Company
Aurora Theatre, 2081 Addison Street in Berkeley
Tues at 7; Wed – Sat at 8; Sun at 2 & 7
scheduled to end on December 7, 2014
EXTENDED through December 20, 2014
for tickets, call (510) 843-4822 or visit www.auroratheatre.org

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