Masked and vaxxed, we returned to Webster’s Loretto-Hilton Theater for the first time in a year-and-a-half. Our vaccination cards and IDs were both checked before entry to the building was permitted. Social distancing seating meant that the two seats to our left and right and in front and behind us were all empty. The seating for this show was considerably more congested than what we experienced last spring with the play, Mlima’s Tale, which was running at about 10% to 20% of house capacity. Still, operating at about half capacity the house was not full. It was a Thursday night after all. No refreshments were for sale. The regular paper program had been replaced with a PDF file that we scanned to our phones. The HVAC system was not running in the auditorium, causing a visible mist to form up near the ceiling. Another Covid precaution or a by product of the temperate weather? A lot has changed as the house lights dimmed and we sat, waiting to watch Dreaming Zenzile.
Zenzile is the African name for the woman known to the world as Miriam Makeba and regaled as Mama Africa. Dreaming Zenzile is the story of this South African activist-singer, told in retrospect as she performs on stage during her final concert, where she died immediately after leaving the stage. This play was originally scheduled to be performed in March of 2020 and was in technical rehearsal then, but has taken a year-and-a-half to finally reach the stage. This musical that is not a musical, doubles as a biography. Created by Somi Kakoma who also portrays Makeba on stage, Dreaming Zenzile tells the story of this woman’s life, from her childhood in apartheid South Africa, until her death on the world’s stage. Musical high notes are punctuated with the many tragic events that occurred throughout her life. Singing brought her the world’s attention, which she used to fight apartheid in her homeland and for civil rights in the US.
With this year’s Mlima’s Tale and Dreaming Zenzile, The Reps new Artistic Director Hana Sharif is definitely signaling a new direction for the Saint Louis Repertory Theater. Anne and I have been attending The Rep for much of Steven Woolf’s 33-year tutelage, who Sharif succeeded as artistic director in 2019. I was saddened to learn of Woolf’s passing this last July. Two plays are too small a sample size to form an opinion yet about Sharif’s artistic vision. I need to gather more data, which means we will continue to attend The Rep.