De la soul

Sizwe Banzi Is Dead

Rated 5.0

What’s a man, and what does his life matter? In Athol Fugard’s Sizwe Banzi Is Dead, Celebration Arts comes at that question from a dozen directions, all based in South Africa’s apartheid regime. Sizwe Banzi, a man from King William’s Town, needs work to support his family. His passbook won’t allow him to work in Port Elizabeth, but opportunity knocks in the form of a passbook with work permits that belongs to a dead man.

As Sizwe Banzi, Romann Hodge embodies frustration at a culture determined to strip him not only of his manhood, but humanity, from men of color. At one point, he strips off his suit, demanding, as did Shylock, “Am I not a man?”

James Ellison takes on dual roles as the passbook photographer Styles, a man who has had plenty of run-ins of his own with the soul-grinding racism of apartheid, and Buntu, an expert at finding ways around the bureaucracy necessary to keep apartheid functioning.

This is an intense, well-played drama, showcasing two of the area’s finest actors in a play worthy of their skills.