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Theater Review: "The Convert" At The Kirk Douglas Theatre

Sara Itkis |
April 23, 2012 | 11:58 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

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T Charles Erickson)
It's been said that your experience at the theater affects how you perceive the show. Arrive early, enjoy drinks and socializing before and after said show, sit comfortably and close to the stage, and relax as you return home on a full stomach, with some of the more remarkable moments from the night replaying in your head. Do the above and you’re guaranteed to enjoy the play more, than if you had, say, arrived minutes before the play, thanks to the inconsistency of the L.A. Metro system, been in the dazed state of post-all-nighter exhaustion, sat next to a lady with a nightmarishly irritating laugh, and gotten stranded, having missed the last bus back. As you may imagine, the second scenario I describe stems from personal experience. Yet, while the theater-going experience could have turned out better, “The Convert” at the Kirk Douglas Theater still managed to blow me away. Showcasing the breathtaking talents of its cast, “The Convert” is a powerful and poignant examination of identity, faith and blood—in both the physical and familial senses of the word.

Set in a South African village in 1896, “The Convert” follows a young African woman, Jekesai (Pascale Armand), who runs away from an arranged marriage and finds work and shelter in the home of a "wannabe" priest, Chilford (LeRoy McClain). Her name is changed to Ester, and her faith and identity transform along with it. As the conflict with colonization escalates, Ester must, like the Ester from the Biblical tale, delve into her roots and beliefs to find where her true family and loyalties lie.

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T Charles Erickson)
The scenic and sound designs (by Daniel Ostling and Darron L West, respectively) establish the atmosphere of the show from the very start. The entirety of the play transpires in the living room of Chilford, the African catechist. The set is comprised of earthy tones of brown, green and orange, which is complemented by the African drum and vocal music playing during transitions between scenes. Overall, the set and costumes are realistic, giving full context for the equally authentic performances.

All the power of the play lies within the effective deliverance of Danai Gurira's moving script, and the cast of “The Convert” certainly fulfills the potential of their roles, especially with respect to their accents. Armand captivates the audience with her portrayal of Ester, and her courage and conviction in her beliefs almost tangible. Starting out as flighty girl who is only looking for something to rely on, in which she can in turn believe, her lightheartedness and stickling attitudes win us over immediately. We follow her as she is faced by challenge after challenge, and everything around her contradicts the black and white visions she once had of the world. Painfully but gracefully, Ester matures, and Armand portrays her growth with spectacular gravity. Cheryl Lynn Bruce as Ester’s aunt, Mai Tamba, and LeRoy McClain as Chilford, bring both great humor and emotion to their performances, although they come across as somewhat forced at times. Completing the cast is Zainab Jah as Prudence, a highly educated and witty African woman, with a particularly strong performance. Jah grounded the intense emotions and flyaway passions of the other characters with her wry, practical outlook on the chaos and adversity all around. All around, the cast has put for a virtuoso undertaking of the humorous, witty, and, most of all, heavy content of Gurira’s “The Convert.”

Reach reporter Sara here.



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