Bells Rings out in Steinbach

Bells rang at Andover this past December as the fall Theatre 520 class romped in Steinbach Auditorium. The Bells of Amersfoort, written by Zakes Mda, is the story of Tami Walaza, a reformed alcoholic who leaves her native land in South Africa to pursue greater ambitions in Holland. Working alongside her lover, Luthando Vela, Tami tries to awaken South Africa to the world of freedom she has found outside its boundaries. Though set in Tami’s flat in Holland, the story flows into her past as well, carrying the audience backwards in time to the scenes that scar her memories. Mark Efinger ’74, instructor in theatre, enlisted the help of the Maqubela family, a Dutch student at PA, and the playwright himself to teach the cast of this show about the songs, dances, and traditions of the Xhosa people, Dutch culture, and the origins of the play itself. Not only did the group go through intensive background research to understand their project better, but they also, as noted in the production program, studied “many theatrical styles, [because the play] moves from realism through expressionism to a traditional African form called Intsomi (where the protagonist questions grotesque figures while on a journey).” These studies paid off once the production was underway; the actors portrayed their characters with obvious knowledge of their inner motivations. As a whole, the show was impressive. The serious subject matter of the play, including the flashbacks to South Africa during the latter years of Apartheid, when mixed with jokes and upbeat music, struck a satisfying balance between its heavy and light subject matter. The actors themselves handled this balance well, even over the hurdle of the play’s jumbled chronology, and altered their stature accordingly. However, because the show required careful attention and dedication to the changes within it, when a few dance steps lacked commitment or an actor’s delivery was not entirely believable, the problem was noticeable, and rough patches were apparent. However, the bumpy bits of the show were overshadowed by the power of the production as a whole, and, after all, even professional shows have their flaws. The actors in this Theatre 520 class accomplished the task of keeping their audience’s attention throughout the play: they definitely entertained the many that came to see The Bells of Amersfoort: Rashidah Green ’04, who played Tami Waslaza, was as natural as one could hope for in a lead character. She seemed truly wounded by her memories and continually plagued by a past that haunted her present. This continuum of pain, even through the lighter parts of the show, gave Green’s performance a truth that made Tami real for her audience. Green was also very giving onstage, which made her interactions with other actors, especially Jason Saunders ’05, work smoothly. Saunders, who played Tami’s lover and confidante in South Africa, was convincing in his portrayal of Luthando Vela. Yet, what added a unique quality to Saunders’ performance was the use of his voice as a distinguishing factor in his character. Through Luthando’s struggles, Saunders championed a deep and resounding tone that gave him a sincere and caring aura. Yet, as his character evolved and became greedy, Saunders’ voice became raspy and shallow, depicting a colder, uncaring disposition. This was key in his performance. Michael Cardella ’05 played Johan VanDerBijl, a priest with a dark past. Striking a mischievous balance between holiness and sinfulness, Cardella continually made the audience sheepishly smile, whether it be over his interactions with the seductive prostitute, Heleen (played by Thameka Thompson ’05), or by his furtive glances across the stage. Uzoma Iheagwara ’04 and Jordana Wolf ’04 played Martijn and Katja, Tami’s two friends in Holland. Iheagwara accomplished a major feat: he gave a hilarious performance without compromising the performances of actors around him who had more serious dispositions. Wolf, being one of these actors, worked well as his foil. Yet, if one ‘bump’ was present in her performance, it was the absence of gradual change in emotion: sometimes, her jumps to extremes seemed unnatural and staged. However, for the most part, this pair worked well together as the audience’s comic relief. Samuel duPont ’04 and Amy O’Gorman ’04 played the characters Fritz and Catharina, who lived in apartments across from Tami’s flat in Holland. A painter and a singer, they represented the peaceful, complacent world that Tami could never reach. The rest of the cast made up the aforementioned dancers and drummers who played townspeople in South Africa. Their liveliness and commitment to the dances and songs of the show were what made it especially enjoyable to watch. The triumph of this show at PA was obviously a result of the cast’s hard work, but its look into culture also contributed to the play’s success. The Bells of Amersfoort gave its audience a look into a real culture and history of South Africa as well as providing a fictional story for entertainment; this coupling was the show’s winning recipe. As audience member Helen Chacon ’05 remarked after the curtain call, “I liked the play, because it was unlike anything I’ve ever seen at Andover before; something about the real culture and all the vibrant color just made it unique.”