Total Rating: 
May 27, 2017
July 3, 2017
Los Angeles
Rogue Machine
Theater Type: 
The Met Theater
Theater Address: 
1089 Oxford Avenue
Running Time: 
2 hrs, 30 min
Lorraine Hansberry
Gregg T. Daniel
Joyce Guy

Rogue Machine’s production of Les Blancs deserves a 21-gun salute. The late Lorraine Hansberry’s last play is Shakespearean in form and scope, one that tells a complicated African story and calls for a large cast of both white and black actors to make it work. Many of the actors must speak in dialects and wear native costumes. The set and lighting effects are tricky; music and dance must be woven into the scheme of things as well. Whoever directs faces formidable challenges of every imaginable kind.

It’s no wonder, then, that Les Blancs has rarely been produced since it was posthumously staged in 1969, four years after Hansberry’s death at age 34. Credit must be paid to Rogue Machine for not only tackling such an ambitious project but bringing it off so successfully — and to Gregg T. Daniel for his masterful direction. Les Blancs is set in a mission compound in an unnamed African country. The mission is run by a white doctor patterned after Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965). Hansberry gives him the name of Dr. Neilsen, but we never meet him, only his aged, near-blind wife, Madame Neilsen (Anne Gee Byrd). For years she and her husband have tended free of charge to the local folk, curing their ailments, involving themselves in their lives. But now the forces of history have threatened their safe, paternalistic existence. Black nationalists have risen up against the white power structure in their country and are fighting to take control of it. A revolution is in the making.

An American journalist, Charlie Morris (Jason McBeth) arrives to cover the action. He meets Madame Neilsen and the other two white doctors working in the clinic, Marta Gotterling (Fiona Hardingham) and Willy DeKoven (Joel Swetow) — not to speak of the head of the heavily armed members of the Colonial Forces, Major George Rice (Bill Brochtrup). They are on the scene because violence has broken out: some white settlers have been killed by black extremists (and nice versa).

The catalytic character in the story is Tshemebe Matoseh (Desean Kevin Terry), who has returned to the village for the funeral of his father, a tribal elder. Tshembe is polished and well-spoken after his years in Europe, where he married a white woman and has a child. He left his country out of disgust at what the white man was doing to it, thinks of himself as European, above the fray, a universalist not a nationalist. He has two brothers, one of whom has become a priest and believes that violence is not the answer to the country’s problems, only compromise and accommodation. The other brother scoffs at this, believes that armed struggle is the solution: death to whitey...and if that includes the Neilsens, so be it.

Tshemebe is a natural leader; the tribe needs him to take over from his father. But he has put personal happiness over idealism. His dilemma is an old one, a familiar one. “Orestes...Hamlet...the rest of them. We’ve really got so many things we’d rather be doing,” he realizes.

Hansberry not only explores all of these social, racial and moral conflicts in Les Blancs but makes us see that they are still relevant today. Her powerful writing is matched by the actors and director of the Rogue Machine company. Together with the contributions of set designer Stephanie Kerley Schwartz, costume designer Wendell C. Carmichael, choreographer Joyce Guy (and dancer Shari Gardner), and percussionist Jelani Blunt, they have put together a truly important and memorable production.

Jelani Blunt, Shari Gardner, Roxann Blackman, John Knight, Trenton Lucas, Rosney Mauger, Tarina Pouncy, Rayven Taylor, Francoise Tiadem, Fiona Hardingham, Amir Abdullah, Jason McBeth, Joel Swetow, Bill Brochtrup, Trevor Bergmann, Turney Frankosky, Matthew Linberg, Nick Moss, Paul Stanko, Anne Gee Byrd, Aric Floyd, Deseann Kevin Terry, Matt Orduna, Jonathan P. Sims
Set: Stephanie Kerley Schwartz; Costumes: Wendell C. Carmichael; Lighting: Derrick McDaniel; Original Music & Sound: Jeff Gardner
Willard Manus
Date Reviewed: 
May 2017