This is the fundamental question in Zimbabwe Theater Academy Zandezi, now playing at the Carlo de Dell’Arte Theater in Blue Lake. What matters more to a man: whether he proves he was wrongfully convicted or benefits from an amnesty program? Whether he takes care of a sick cellmate or accepts that sufficient food has a price? That he patiently awaits justice or takes advantage of an opportunity to escape?
Dilemmas abound in this stripped-down, powerful and universally relevant play set in a prison in Zimbabwe and luring the audience through a judicious breach of the fourth wall. Conceived and interpreted by two exceptional actors, Cadrick (Khe Khe) Msongelwa and Ronald Sigeca. Msongelwa holds a Professional Physical Theater Training Program certificate from the Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theater and Sigeca holds a Professional Physical Theater Certificate from the Zimbabwe Theater Academy. The academy is a one-year, full-time professional program founded by Dell’Arte International alumni, Lloyd Nyikadzino and Teddy Mangawa, in partnership with Dell’Arte International and the Pamberi Trust. On June 25, Msongelwa and Sigeca will receive the 31st annual Aesen Theater and Dell’Arte International Hope Award on behalf of the Zimbabwe Theater Academy Trust.
Directed by Lloyd Nyikadzino, Zandezi is the quintessence of physical theatre. With only minor adjustments to their prison uniform costumes and a large metal tub as their only prop, Msongelwa and Sigela convey the eternal struggle for justice and survival in a harsh but mundane, cruel but comradely environment through movement , music and carefully chosen words.
Zandezi revolves around Philani Dube, who has been framed for a crime he didn’t commit, simply because he bought a cell phone off the street that previously belonged to a real criminal. The only witness who could prove her innocence is missing and her attorney won’t be looking for her unless he paid a lot of money that Dube doesn’t have. Freedom costs money. After his incarceration, Dube learns that his wife Lucy has given birth to twins, but his pride prevents him from letting Lucy see how prison has changed him. The moment he came to terms with who he has become, the COVID pandemic has arrived, no visitors are allowed, one of his sons has died from the virus, and Dube cannot attend his funeral.
Along the way, Dube learns a lot about the realities and injustices of prison life, starting with the widely accepted presumption that “half the people here are innocent and half the people there are guilty.” He learns that he will be locked up from 3 p.m. until 6 a.m., and the rest of each day is an endless cycle of work (“Here, you’re a slave”), bad food, exercise, and entertainment. created by inmates “to keep our sanity.” It is a dance of power and control that begs the question: “Who depends on whom?” He learns that accused rapists will be raped and that it costs five cigarettes to use a working toilet. He also learns to present a document to the courts to ask for his freedom.
When he finally regains his freedom, Dube discovers that the world has changed. His wife married someone else. He cannot find work, noting, “It’s like you have leprosy – nobody wants you.” He resorts to breaking into houses and the cycle begins again. And is that justice? You are the judge.
Zandezi premiered in 2018 in Zimbabwe, where it won Best Production and Best Actor at the Bulawayo Arts Awards in 2019, Best Director at the National Arts Merit Awards in 2019, and Best Production at the Jika International Dance Theater Festival 2021. With the easing of pandemic restrictions, the Zimbabwe Theater Academy was able to tour the production in the United States, with performances at Georgetown University and in Seattle and Portland. The Blue Lake run will be followed by a special presentation at Pelican Bay State Prison thanks to Dell’Arte’s participation in California Arts in Corrections programming.
Performances of Zandezi will continue at the Carlo Theater on Friday June 3 and Saturday June 4 at 8 p.m., and Sunday June 5 at 2 p.m. Proof of COVID vaccination and masks required. Tickets are by donation, starting at $5. Call 668-5663 or visit www.dellarte.com.
Pat Bitton (her) is a Eureka-based freelance writer/editor who is nominally retired, but you know how it goes.