The Convert is a fierce and interesting look at Africa’s history of British colonization in the late 1800s. The play is told by the residents of Rhodesia (the area that is now Zimbabwe). Playwright Danai Gurira (you may know her as Michonne in AMC’s The Walking Dead) once again highlights a part of African history that is often left out of history books. Following a young African woman’s journey of converting to Roman Catholicism, this play’s themes of embracing one’s culture and identity are timely.
The intimate Gremlin Theater provides a peek into the house of the Chancellor (played by AJ Friday), a man trying to become the first African priest in a Catholic church. His maid, Mai Tamba (Ivory Doublette), brings her niece Jekesai (Ashe Jaafaru) in to work for him. Impressed by Jekesai’s intelligence, he trains her to be a translator and begins the process of trying to convert her to Catholicism. He renames her Ester and continues trying to expel the “savage” within her. This is a gripping story of religious oppression, only made more gripping through reflections of today.
After seeing her starring role in School Girls, or the African Mean Girls Play at The Jungle Theater last spring, it was great to see Ashe Jaafaru in another stand out role; I was blown-away with her performance in The Convert as Jekesai/Ester. She brings fire to this young woman. Jaafaru is a smart and expressive actor. Matching Jaafaru in this show is Hope Cervantes, playing Prudence. Cervantes provides a snap-worthy performance with many great zingers and powerful statements. She also guides the audience through her character’s trek, going from a glamourous, seemingly-perfect life to coping with loss. You don’t want to miss these performances.
The Convert is directed by Wendy Knox, the Artistic Director of Frank Theatre. While some of her blocking seems unmotivated, you can tell that her work with developing characters with the actors was strong. And it’s worth it, as none of the acting seems “character-y.” I fully believed in all of these people. My favorite technical element was the lighting design by Tony Stoeri. What seems simple actually helps guide the audience's gaze and emotions through the production.
I cannot even begin to say how important this play is today. In a time where religious persecution and forced conversion is happening all over the world, watching this play not only provokes thought, but it provokes action. Danai’s script is amazingly strong. To tell a story from Africa’s history to invoke feeling about similar things of today shows us that these injustices have been here for a long time and won’t go away unless we stop it.
The Convert is fascinating and important, with this part of history being left out of our schools’ textbooks; the performances will add to your enjoyment of the play. The Convert plays at the Gremlin Theatre until March 15th. You can find more information and get your tickets here.