Losses mended, hope renewed in 'Since Africa'

In 1983, 25,000 young boys began a five-year march of more than 1,000 miles to flee their war-torn country of Sudan. Only 12,000 survived the journey. In 2001, 3,800 survivors, labeled as the Lost Boys of Sudan, came to America to build a new life. At one time 90 Lost Boys lived and worked in San Diego.

The subject of these boys' settlements has appeared in books, films and plays. One of the more recent productions is Mia McCullough's "Since Africa," the story of how a recent widow, her daughter, a priest and a Lost Boy come together to mend losses and renew hope.

The Old Globe's "Since Africa" runs now through March 8 at James S. Copley Auditorium in the San Diego Museum of Art.

Reggie Hudson's (Willie C. Carpenter) church has relocated Ater Dahl from Sudan into a small apartment and summoned volunteer Diane MacIntyre (Linda Gehringer) to help orient Ater into America. Diane, a recent widow, is still grieving. Her constant battles with teenage daughter Eve (Ashley Clements) over what to do with the house or Mr. MacIntyre's ashes become stumbling blocks for them both. Hoping her new job will help move her on, Diane jumps in wholeheartedly.

Ater, who learned English in the refugee camps, has a problem the first day Diane arrives at his apartment. He's eaten too many unfamiliar things and must make quick trips to the bathroom. Diane leaves but returns to teach Ater how to open cans, chop celery, shop and open a bank account. When Reggie notices Ater's fading appreciation about his new home, he butts heads with Diane over her excessive mothering. Meanwhile, Eve forms a friendship with Ater more on his level. They compare her new tattoo, which infuriated her mother, to the Dinka ritual scarification lines that mark his forehead.

Playwright McCullough has stated that her desire for the play was to show the African and American culture side by side. To create a spiritual African presence, McCullough created the character of The Nameless One, played exceptionally well by Kristin Carpenter. She's a free spirit who, unseen by the characters, dances vigorously around them one minute while posing as a statue near the MacIntyre home another.

"Since Africa" attempts to blend topics that include separation, alienation and readjustment. Although the play is a tad too long and the character's interactions often feel disjointed, the themes mostly play out. With the aid of wonderful African music and beating drums, the three lead characters exhibit their losses well; for Eve, the loss of her father, Diane, life as she knew it and, for Ater, his homeland and moreover his mother whom he has not seen for years.

Ater's readjustment is not easy. He gets acclimated on good things about America, like electricity and having a job, but he experiences some negative aspects around him. At heart he's a warrior trained to kill in order to survive so when he's threatened by a co-worker and gets stabbed, he fights back. This is only one of the things that drives him to tell Diane and Reggie: "I miss my country. I want to go back."

'Since Africa'

  • Through March 8
  • Copley Auditorium
  • San Diego Museum of Art
  • 1450 El Prado
  • (619) 234-5623

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