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Review: The Convert at Woolly Mammoth

Arty Pants
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The Bitches have long loved the Woolly Mammoth Theatre. We first fell in love with the independent, not-for-profit theater located in Penn Quarter back in 2009, when we saw Chicago’s Second City Comedy Troupe perform Barack Stars, which was a hilarious political satire. They came back with another similar political satire, A Girl’s Guide to Washington Politics, which was equally hilarious, clever, and enjoyable.

Those first two seasons we were attending shows, we enjoyed every single play, to at least some extent. We love the theater itself—minimalistic and modern, with wood paneling and high ceilings. We love that you can drink wine and beer in the theater.

Woolly’s last season, its 32nd, was a rough one. The theme of the plays was meant to explore the end of humanity, essentially, with the question “Does our civilization have an expiration date? And what comes next?”

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There was the weird play about recession, American over-indulgence, and Capitalistic pigs, which was working for me until the pig started talking. There was an odd post-nuclear meltdown Simpsons mash-up that I didn’t understand because I wasn’t allowed to watch the Simpsons as a child. Plus, it was just creepy. There was the one about religious cults and Wal-Marts. The best play of the 2011-2012 season was definitely Spoiler Alert, Everybody Dies, which was also done by Second City. Lastly, let’s not forget the drag queen who gets abducted by aliens. That was a doozie. Now, I love being intellectually challenged, pondering the meaning of life, and getting out of my comfort zone. But, oy vey.

Indeed, The Bitches even began cheating on Woolly with Studio Theater. Becca saw Studio Theatre’s The Aliens and we both loved The Motherf*cker with the Hat, despite the slew of curse words that amounted to a lot, even for the Bitches.

Thankfully, it seems we don’t have to give up on our long-term love. Because, after attending the latest play a few weeks ago, it seems Woolly has gotten its groove back.

The Convert was an excellent play centered around colonialism and religious conversion in late 19th century Southern Africa. It was written by OBIE Award-winning playwright Danai Gurira (Eclipsed, In The Continuum).

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Set in 1895 amid the colonial scramble for Southern Africa, the play centers on Jekesai, a young girl who escapes village life and a forced marriage arrangement, ultimately discovering Christianity under the guidance of an African teacher. Jeksesia is forced to change her name, her clothing, her God, and her life in order to conform to the starkly different societal demands of the white European colonials controlling the region.

However, as anti-colonial sentiments rise to a boiling point, Jekesai must choose between her new European God and her allegiances to her family, her tribe, the spirits of her ancestors, and essentially everything she has ever known.

The acting was superb, with rich character development. While tackling a serious subject, there were still multiple humorous moments throughout, mostly in the characters’ foibles, that had the audience laughing throughout. Like a humorous, engaging history lesson, The Convert examines complex cultural and religious collisions that shaped the post-colonial world, the reverberations of which are still felt in Zimbabwe today. The show itself was thought-provoking, emotionally stimulating and educational.

The Convert is playing through March 10, this Sunday, and tickets are $30. It’s a great show, and is worth a visit this weekend if you have time.

Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company

641 D St. N.W.
Washington, D.C.
202) 393-3939

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