Photo: Scott Suchman
Danai Gurira’s The Conert opens in 1895 Southern Africa where Nancy Moricette’s character Jekesai runs onto the Woolly Mammoth stage wearing nothing but some Zimbabwe tribal neckware and a small animal hide skirt. The image is striking and reminiscent of a photo you would perhaps see in an old issue of National Geographic.
Seeking refuge from becoming a wife to her Uncle (Erik Kilpatrick), Jekesai reaches out to her aunt Mai Tamba (Starla Benford) who is a maid at the home of Chilford (Irungu Mutu), a Christian missionary. Jekesai is taken in and given a job, schooling, and the opportunity to convert from her pagan religion to Catholicism. Grateful for her newfound situation, we see Jekesai slowly shed her native identity (which includes changing her name to Ester) and turn into a devout missionary. Her new faith however will find her in the middle of rising tensions between the Zimbabwe natives, the European settlers, and the converted missionaries in the middle.
It is a powerful story and the latest piece by Gurira, who you may know from her role in AMC’s Walking Dead. She is no stranger to Woolly Mammoth, she performed on stage in 2006’s Continuum and premiered her play Eclipsed at Woolly back in 2009. A child to Zimbabwean parents, Gurira has been deeply interested in telling the story of her native homeland and delivers the first of a trilogy of plays about Zimbabwe in the form of a moving drama that is new and refreshing.