Sunday, November 16, 2014

"Breakfast with Mugabe" ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG

Two hard-headed men face off against each other in a room with slightly out-of-date aristocratic, upholstered furniture and white marble floor.  One is the ruler of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, and the other is Dr. Andrew Peric, a psychiatrist whose family has lived in Zimbabwe for generations, since it was the openly anti-black nation known as Southern Rhodesia. Mugabe is filled with hatred for whites, especially those who oppressed his people for so many years, while Peric demonstrates the conscious and unconscious superiority born into white Southern Africans of his time. The year is 2002.

The difference between the two men, of course, is that Mugabe has all the power while Dr. Peric has none. Peric's hubris forbids him from seeing the danger he is in, while Mugabe's sole purpose in inviting psychoanalysis appears to be an opportunity to humiliate and destroy the doctor.

Aurora Theater's production of Fraser Grace's 2006 play is buoyed by an amazing performance by L. Peter Callender as Mugabe. While maintaining a studied, intellectual exterior, Callender is so tightly wound as to seem never more than a second from explosion. It is a brilliant character study, though we can never know how true the stage Mugabe is to the real-life Mugabe.

Mugabe's wife Grace, played by Leontyne Mbele-Mbong is equally frightening. She alternates between threatening, when her husband is not around, and docility when he is. Dan Hiatt's Dr. Peric shows frustration but somehow never fear, while Adrian Roberts plays Gabriel, an aide to the Mugabes. Gabriel's job is to "know everything and say nothing." This is not a happy bunch of folks.

The play isn't happy either. We are left wondering not only how a government as racist as Rhodesia could ever have existed, but also how a tyrant as evil as Robert Mugabe could still be in power in 2014.

It's a difficult assignment for a playwright: the audience is aware that the real-life Mugabe turned even more evil after the period discussed here. We assume Dr. Peric is fictional, but Robert Mugabe is anything but. We leave the theater a little bit unhinged.

 The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Breakfast with Mugabe" Three Stars with a BANGLE OF PRAISE. The Bangle has to be for L. Peter Callender, whose every gesture makes us shudder. This show will not make you feel very good about real life, but it is an exciting night in the safe confines of a theater seat.

"Breakfast with Mugabe"
Aurora Theatre
2081 Addison Street, Berkeley
EXTENDED Through December14

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