Sarili, 20, Paramount Chief of the Xhosa.
Mhalakaza, or “Wilhelm Goliat”, 56, High Councilor to Sarili.
Nongkawuse, 17, Mhalakaza’s niece.
Nathaniel Merriman, 55, Mhalakaza’s friend and Archdeacon of the Anglican Church in ‘Brittish Kaffiria’.
Rebecca Merriman, 25, Nathaniel’s daughter.
Maquoma, 59, Chief of the Ngqika.
To keep the cast size at six:
The actor playing Maquoma may also play Hintsa’s Spirit, Nyashe, and Botho.
The actor playing Sarili may also play Ngqika’s Spirit, and Kwembe.
The actor playing Nathaniel may also play Mdushane and other Xhosa.
The actor playing Rebecca may also play Nomba, a young friend of Nongkawuse’s.
1856, South Africa. After several devastating wars with the British, the Xhosa turn to the apocalyptic prophecies of a teenage girl, Nongkawuse. A group of unexpected allies try and fail to stop her from convincing the Xhosa to carry out her prophecy.
Years earlier, a Xkosa named Mhalakaza developed a spiritual bond with Nathaniel Merriman, the Archdeacon of the nearby Anglican Church, and became his first convert to Christianity. Their friendship brought together Nathaniel’s daughter Rebecca, and Mhalakaza’s niece Nongkawuse.
When Rebecca returns to South Africa after her education in London, she believes she can heal the wounds of the recent British/Xhosa wars through the radical Left ideas she absorbed there. Instead, she, Mhalakaza, and Nathaniel struggle with the growing influence of Nongkawuse’s visions.
At the mouth of the Gxara river, Nongkawuse is visited by the spirits of deceased Xhosa royalty, Hintsa and Ngika. They instruct her that the English wars, and the recent outbreak of a lung-sickness in the Xkosa cattle, are both divine trials. To prove their faith, Nongkawuse must convince the Xhosa to kill all their cattle and burn all their fields. This proof will be rewarded by God, who will sweep the English into the sea, and all of their dead ancestors will rise to inaugurate a paradise on earth.
As Nonkgawuse’s charismatic preaching leads to outbreaks of more visions confirming her prophecy, Mhalakaza convinces Sarili, the Paramount Chief of all the Xhosa, to hold a trial. Nongkawuse will make her case, and Mhalakaza and Nathaniel will attempt to counter it.
At the trial, Nongkawuse’s passion seems to be winning the day, and so a desperate Rebecca breaks all decorum by making her own case against the prophecy. Instead of being insulted, Sarili is intrigued, and seeks out Rebecca for a private council.
As an unexpected intimacy develops between Sarili and Rebecca, her relationship to her father Nathaniel breaks. She increasingly looks to the comic vitalism of Mhalakaza for guidance, even as he looks to her for escape, fearing nothing can be done to stop the impending crisis. Meanwhile, Nongkawuse’s influence grows, and a number of Xhosa begin killing their cattle and burning their fields.
At a second trial, Sarili throws the Xhosa council into uproar when he proposes marriage to Rebecca as a solution to the crisis. Nongkawuse responds by channeling the spirit of Sarili’s dead son, and with a cheering crowd of followers behind him, Sarili breaks from the the uncertain Rebecca to embrace fully Nongkawuse”s prophecy.
With the Paramount Chief supporting the prophecy, Nathaniel abandons hope, and turns to caring for the increasingly destitute Xhosa. Mhalakaza tries to convince Rebecca to take him with her to London, but when she explains the racism there would not allow them to live together, he abandons hope and joins his niece to fulfill the prophecy.
The prophecy fails, the Xhosa starve, and when Nongkawuse comes begging at Rebecca and Nathaniel’s door, a surprising reverie between the two women, who were raised as sisters, breaches the divide between them, and for a blissful moment, raises from the dead all those they have lost.
NY Theatre Barn’s 2008 New Play Reading Series
New York Theatre Barn
June 8th, 2008, NYC
Directed by Keith Powell
Featuring Karina Mackenzie, Michael Potts, and Ken Glickfeld
Winner of the 2006 Colonial Players Promising Playwright Contest
The Colonial Players, Inc.
June, 2006 Annapolis, MD
Staged Reading featuring John O’Boyle and Jessica Maiuzzo
The Lark’s Playwrights’ Week 2005
June 10th-18th, 2005, New York City
Lark Play Development Center
Staged reading directed by Gia Forakis
Featuring Heather Dyas-Fried, Carolyn Ratteray and Stephen Conrad Moore
2nd Place in 2004-05 Fremont Centre Theatre’s New Playwright Contest
2003 Staged Reading for Contemporary Stage Company
Directed by Keith Powell
Featuring Heather Dyas-Fried, William T Mitchell, and Carolyn Ratteray