Credit: Michael Brosilow

This Steppenwolf for Young Adults (SYA) production’s full title is worth sharing: We Are Proud to Present a Presentation About the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as South West Africa, From the German Südwestafrika, Between the Years 1884-1915. The act of shortening the title reinforces the idea of erasure that’s present throughout this play within a play, penned by Jackie Sibblies Drury and codirected by SYA artistic director Hallie Gordon and Gabrielle Randle. The cast of six plays a group of actors struggling to tell the story of the little-known genocide of the Herero people, perpetrated by Germans at the beginning of the 20th century. Since the only surviving artifacts from that time belong to the colonizers, the group stretches to personal, deeply buried, and often shocking places in an effort to identify with their characters and feel empathy for the unwritten Herero story.

Coping with difficult subject matter through humor only gets the actors so far before each begins to grapple with his or her role in giving voice to a forgotten people—or stifling it. That each member of the cast is primarily identified by his or her race drives home the play’s main question of who has the right to tell certain stories. For Actor 6/Black Woman (Jennifer Latimore), discovering the Herero is the first time she recognizes her ancestors in a photo. This and other subsequent heartbreaking realizations by the cast reveal how consequences and symbols of oppression can devastate generations.   v