‘Mugabe’ wins: Here & Over There

A dramatic production now staged at the Signature Center challenges audiences to rethink western propaganda, media and the notion of Black leadership in Africa. In “Breakfast With Mugabe” playwright Fraser Grace sets a place to focus on an international statesman whose image has been pretty much tarnished by reports that his tenure in office since 1980 has become a charade, dictatorship and embarrassment to his nation. Deemed persona non grata, here, President Robert Mugabe has been much maligned for reversing the common practice of his white predecessor Ian Smith, who generously doled out large chunks of Zimbabwe to his friends. Allegedly, Smith’s pals carved out areas the size of Central Park and claimed it as their farm. When Mugabe followed the pattern set for him, he became the whipping boy from British and US media. The reason they fed propaganda to clueless citizens living this side of the Pacific and Atlantic is that Mugabe lost his way and is now the corrupt, demon often depicted as leaders on the continent.

Inspired by accounts that Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe became severely depressed and allegedly sought treatment from a white psychiatrist, Grace takes liberties in presenting his mystical and suspenseful perspective.

Produced by Two Planks Productions, the play is directed by David Shookhoff.

Brilliantly casted, Ezra Barnes (Andrew Peric), Michael Rogers (Robert Mugabe) Rosalyn Coleman (Grace Mugabe) and Che Ayende (Gabriel) portrays the quad who takes the audience through a mine-field of compelling dialogue that explodes when “tension between modern ideas and ancient beliefs” collide and brings to fore “the question of whether those who were colonized can live with their former subjugators and how a man who was oppressed becomes an oppressor.”

Actor Michael Rogers portrays a sobering, intelligent, calculated and presidential character who defies public opinion or propaganda.

Born in Trinidad & Tobago, Rogers moved to Brooklyn, attended Hunter College and graduated from the Yale Repertory Theater. In his role he exalts Grace’s pen with every utterance.

He lauds the leader by toasting with orange juice; graciously presents his wife and home and matches wit and intellect with the Zim doctor who boasts three generations of ‘occupation’ in the majority Black nation.

To break the fast, Mugabe’s invited guest is a white psychiatrist named Petric.

Summoned to consult with the strongman, the top mental health specialist in the Southern African nation arrives early and is made to wait.

Gabriel is charged with providing a comfortable wait.

He provides light by opening the electronic shutters to the room. As the personal body-guard and special security agent, Gabriel displays discipline, dedication, caution and an off-putting presence that might not be conducive to early morning conversation.

And combined with the idea of waiting, Petric appears insulted that his busy schedule has been ignored by a state head.

As he waits, an actual sit-down breaking of bread becomes impossible.

The first-lady tries to pacify the angst and uneasiness of the busy specialist. And during her brief stop-in to the meeting area, proposes her own selfish requisition.

The fashion-savvy spouse spews a life-story that details how she made it to the big house. That she is decades younger than her iron-fisted husband; how she emerged from being the president’s secretary to birth his children is not negated.

Petric takes note of her chatty disposition and begins to compile a line of queries for the arrival of the leader. When he arrives, the president rejects all of Petric’s demands taking charge of the breakfast. Throughout the 90-minute drama, the four characters provide more information than a Bradley Manning WikiLeaks disclosure could unleash. That Mugabe fought a war to win independence for his country, that he was honored by the queen of England, that he earned multiple degrees and most importantly harbors a sense of humor that is unmatched to any of the five US presidents portrayed in the movie “The Butler.”

Recently re-elected to serve for another term, the 89-year-old leader is due to address the General assembly next month when the United Nations convenes a new session. Perhaps, the 31-year ruler will stop into the 42nd St. location to see the production that was originally produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2005. That production won the highly prestigious John Whiting Award in 2006.

Now playing at The Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre, at the Pershing Square Signature Center, “Breakfast With Mugabe” is billed for a limited run until Oct. 6.

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