The Convert – By Stephanie Greene

May 21, 2012 in Cindy Bandle Young Critics by Cindy-Bandle-Young-Critics

“The Convert” made me a believer in the brilliance of playwright Danai Gurira. The play shows the emotional and spiritual development of its main character, Jekesai, as she is transplanted from her village in southern Africa to a town under British rule. However, from there on she wages an internal battle between what is morally justifiable and religiously correct.

Pascale Armand’s vivid portrayal of Jekesai infuses the character with a distinct dynamism. When we first meet Jekesai she is in her native garb and only seems to know a few words of English; by the end of the play, she is quoting the Bible and seems to be fully assimilated into the British community. Well, assimilated to the point that she is allowed to be assimilated. This play is set in 1895 during the colonial takeover of southern Africa, and of course, race played a role in the way that Jekesai was viewed by her white counterparts.

This exact power structure is one that was seen not only between the white and black community, but also between the British-educated black and the indigenous black community. Chilford, played by LeRoy McClain, is most instrumental in Jekesai’s conversion to Catholicism. McClain is wildly convincing in his role; he makes the audience believe every shrewd comment he espouses. Chilford sees Catholicism as the only way to civilize the “barbaric” indigenous people, and wants to spread the wisdom of the British because they are there to bring southern Africa “into the light.” He wrongly assumes that he is equal to the British and has a rude awakening when he realizes he is not. Despite having received a British- education, racism outweighed Chilford’s hope for equality. Like with Jekesai, the audience is able to witness a change of mindset in Chilford. Together, Armand and McClain ably manage to keep the audience interested as we are forced to keep up with both personal story lines.

“The Convert” is a fantastic play. Because it is set in 1895, it brings to light many issues involving the colonization that took place during the the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It is truly thought provoking – I left the play wanting to know more than what I learned in school about colonization. I was also amazed by the role that religion played in society and how it has the ability to change a person entirely. So many things that I had never bothered to think about were now artfully presented to me. The static set – Chilford’s home – combined with the changing light as the day progresses, allowing the audience to focus on the play.Though the three-hour run time might seem daunting, the engrossing story line might allow one to ignore the length. Another added bonus to keep you on your toes: parts of the dialogue are spoken in the indigenous tongue of Jekesai sans translation. This gives the audience a chance to pay special attention to performance of the actors, which, as stated, was impeccable. By the end, Danai Gurira will have surely made you a believer.