A HUMAN BEING DIED THAT NIGHT (EgoPo): Illuminating apartheid

Sketches by Chuck Schultz.
Sketches by Chuck Schultz.

EgoPo Classic Theater kicked off its 18/19 season officially at the Latvian Society with A HUMAN BEING DIED THAT NIGHT, a work that illuminates the recent past of South African apartheid. Adapted for the stage by Nicholas Wright from a book by psychologist Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela,  the play is frames as an interview between Gobodo-Madikizela (Niya Colbert) and infamous apartheid torturer Eugene de Kock (Paul Nolan), or “Dikoko” as they called him at Pretoria Central Prison in South Africa.

Pretoria was the heart of the apartheid with monuments of heroes and signs of torture scattered throughout the town. It was also the place that Nelson Mandela and other democratic leaders started a new phase for South African history.

The South African police force headed by officers like De Kock undeniably accepted their right to kill without thinking of it as murder. At the core, the value of human life and the power distribution carefully maneuvered around the right to kill and the conviction separable to anybodies free will. The interrogation of “Dikoko” is entangled with emotions from killings which Pumla witnessed herself. Pumla joins the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and discovers the inadequate record of a “massacre,” a flat out lie about the facts by authorities. The files did not match up with what she remembered seeing that day at Fort Hare University. Five hundred black students shot down by police in a protest are recorded in the record as one casualty.

Sketches by Chuck Schultz.
Sketches by Chuck Schultz.

This meeting of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission recreated looks into the mind of a killer. Nolan’s character enters a flashback and admits to this drone-like behavior. The moment of fear breaks with the straight forward questioning, but there was an undertone of guilt in Pumla’s voice.The two actors gave dignity to both characters, and expose the true emotion behind the events described in the play.

The fierce lighting design by Amanda Jenson matches Pumla’s reflections on human cruelty. Light and ,shadow onstage enhance the portrait of a personal relationship and Pumla’s ethical problems. An emotional transformation unfolds on stage, showing how Dikoko repressed his emotions in service to the South African police. The political engine behind his reputation of “Prime Evil” comes out through a twitch, a scratch, and an outburst which transcends the murderer and releases his humanity.

[EgoPo Classic Theater at the Latvian Society Theater] October. 24-November 11, 2018; egopo.org/human-being

Pumla Gobodo-Madikezela’s book- A Human Being Died That Night is free on Google Books.

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