On the first day of rehearsal for each show, the director usually opens the day with some thoughts and comments about the themes and style of the production, and why he or she is so passionate to be working on the play. In the comments below, MTC Artistic Director Jasson Minadakis, who directs this production of The Convert, addresses the cast, creative team and staff about the play.
What I want to say about this play is, we’ve been–I’ve been trying to do this play for a number of years, and trying to figure out how to fit it into our season, how to make it work with the body of work that we were doing in any given year. I adore this play, and I love Danai as a playwright. All of her work is incredibly important. Her two previous plays - In The Continuum and Eclipsed - are amazing pieces of writing. She currently has a play that’s getting its world premiere right now at Yale Rep, called Familiar, and we hope to have that soon to take a read of as well. This is the first piece of a trilogy about Zimbabwe. The play she’s working on at Yale Rep is, I believe, the third piece of that trilogy; it’s the second piece she hasn’t written yet. It’s going to be interesting to see how this entire body of work ends up coming out and what it has to say.
The first time I read this piece, it really profoundly moved me. It was one of the first pieces that I had ever read about what happens to a culture and a people when a colonizing power comes in, and how much things get disrupted and changed. And what is fascinating as I’ve been studying it is that there are a number of colonizations that have happened in this play, and in the history of the Shona people, that we’re going to be talking a lot about. The Matabele, who came from the south, actually colonized the area and subjugated the Shona people before the British and the missionaries started coming in. it’s fascinating to me how the whole history is reflected in this play, and how many different cultures you can see in the specificity of what Danai has created.
In this one story, we can see so many different cultures, because she has done so much on the specificity of this story in its place in history, in its place in its own region. It resonates so strongly because you can see so many different struggles inside of it. It’s also an amazing story, kind of a liberation story, of a woman. I think few plays have ever dared to go as far as this play goes.
You watch someone wholeheartedly embrace a doctrine that is supposed to be a doctrine of faith and of good will, and how that doctrine can be so unbelievably corrupted by the people who are bearing it. And I think whether we talk about Afghanistan, whether we talk about what’s happened in Asia, whether we talk about what happened here on this continent when the Europeans first came, that offer of something pure that’s actually very corrupt when it’s first offered is a really important story that we need to keep reminding ourselves about. I think Danai has done an amazing job of it.
Those are some of the reasons why this play moves me so much. The reason it’s in this season is, this company made a commitment this year to do new work, and to try to reflect the American theatre in as much of a range as we possibly could, with this theatre, where we are, and where we are in our evolution. We were very lucky that we were able to represent three different African-American voices: Will Power, with Fetch Clay, Make Man, which was the first show of the year; Danai, with this production; and then Tarell McCraney, with Choir Boy.
All of our playwrights this season have been in constant communication with us about the work. Danai has been very influential in the casting of this show, and in the preparation of this show, she’s been very generous with her time over the phone, over email. We’re hoping to have her out here at some point—being that she’s doing a world premiere right now at Yale Rep that’s opening in a couple weeks, and then she’s going into filming for The Walking Dead, we’ll see. (For those of you who don’t know, Danai is not only a playwright, she’s also an amazing actor, and she happens to be on The Walking Dead. She’s Michonne, so she knows how to wield a sword these days.)
I think I’m going to leave it at that, you guys are going to hear me talk a lot more down the road, I am going to start passing it over to other people.