NOTHING EXCEPT OURSELVES by Laura Jones

NOTHING EXCEPT OURSELVES

The Harsh Times and Bold Theater of South Africa's Mbongeni Ngema
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 A lively authorized biography of Mbongeni Ngema, creator of Sarafina! and other successful musical tales of black South African protest. Jones, former director of special projects at Lincoln Center in New York City, helped bring Ngema's play Asinamali! to New York. Her rapport with him while working on this book was such that he invited her to cowrite his new play, Magic at 4 am, scheduled for American production this year. Thus, while Jones does mention criticism of the irrepressible Ngema--rumors of a casting couch, patriarchal treatment of young actors--she aims more to place his drive and creativity in a larger context. Born in 1955, in the mostly Zulu province of Natal, Ngema came into theater through a musician buddy who employed him in a township musical he was writing. Jones describes Ngema's shifting network of friends, acquaintances, lovers, and black patrons who supported his fledgling theater work. She also threads in Ngema's growing political consciousness and his eventual connection to Johannesburg's legendary anti-apartheid Market Theatre. There, white director Barney Simon encouraged Ngema to create Woza Albert!, a musical that imagined what might happen should Jesus return to apartheid South Africa, and Asinamali!, praised by director Peter Brook for conveying the horror of black life while maintaining joie de vivre. Sarafina!, like its predecessors, was a kaleidoscopic series of tableaux; this tale of students in the 1976 Soweto uprising became an international hit. Jones steps back to describe Ngema's private life--his polygamous second marriage drew sensationalistic news coverage--and his bustling estate in a formerly whites-only suburb that reproduces a ``miniature, isolated Zulu community.'' Some references in the play excerpts deserve more explication, and the book is a bit dated; Jones could have done more to describe the debate over the future of theater in democratic South Africa. Still, a good introduction for American fans. (8 pages of b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-670-83619-2
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 1994