Kenyan play has its American debut in Princeton
'Amezidi' opens at the Lewis Center for the Arts
"Amezidi," a new translation of the work by Kenyan novelist, poet and playwright Said Ahmed Mohamed, will open this weekend at the Lewis Center for the Arts.
Translated and directed by Princeton senior Christopher Simpson, the tragicomic two-man play will be performed at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Oct. 10-11, and Thursday through Saturday, Oct. 16-18, in the Matthews Acting Studio at the Lewis Center for the Arts, 185 Nassau St.
"Amezidi," first published in Kenya in 1995, is part of Mohamed's ongoing exploration of the many different social and cultural factors that have led to postcolonial Africa's underprivileged state, including the continent's continuing reliance on the West. It follows two characters' struggles to hide from their own poverty by delving into their memories, fantasies and perceptions. These scenes are punctuated with comic exaggeration and biting sarcasm until the bitter end, when the characters' inability to face reality simply cannot go on.
"It's 'Waiting for Godot' meets postcolonial Africa," said Michael Cadden, director of the Program in Theater and Dance, referring to Samuel Beckett's famous two-man play.
Princeton's production of "Amezidi" is believed to be the first time this play by one of the leading Swahili writers has been translated into English or brought to an American stage. It represents a creative senior thesis for Simpson, a comparative literature major who is earning a certificate in theater and dance. He spent three months in Kenya in the fall of 2007 working with local health and development organizations, which gave him firsthand experience of the challenges to overcoming poverty and promoting development in East Africa.
"I witnessed the devastating effects of poverty, hunger and corruption," said Simpson, "saw the pain of a society that at times values foreign cultures over its own, and heard firsthand accounts of the suffering caused by misallocated resources and ill-conceived foreign aid efforts."
Throughout his time in Kenya, Simpson held conversations with a wide variety of Kenyan citizens whose perspectives are not so different than those of the play's only two characters, Ame and Zidi, who will be played by junior Shawn Fennell and senior Stephen Strenio, respectively.
Describing his experience in Kenya, Simpson said, "It was a three-month crash course on the various issues presented in this play."
Tickets are $10 for the general public and $8 for students. Advance tickets are available online through University Ticketing or by calling (609) 258-9220.