The Human Spirit at The Odyssey Theater Looks Back at Apartheid’s Unheralded Heroes

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By Steven Woodruff

Matt Fowler, Allison Reeves, Lisa Dobbyn, and Rea Segoati in “The Human Spirit” by Carole Egash-Kosoff, a world premiere at the Odyssey Theatre in Los Angeles.

Matt Fowler, Allison Reeves, Lisa Dobbyn, and Rea Segoati in “The Human Spirit” by Carole Egash-Kosoff, a world premiere at the Odyssey Theatre in Los Angeles.

Carole Eglash-Kosoff’s play succeeds best when it focuses closely on its edgy quartet of female heroines. Adapted from her book of the same title, The Human Spirit is hampered by its hybrid documentary style which tries to convey too much historical, social, and political narrative. In doing so, her well-drawn characters can seem overwhelmed by contexts that diminish their compelling stories.

The twelve-member cast touches on the lives of more than twenty characters. Helen (real life social activist Helen Lieberman) and three township survivors, Millie, TuTu Mandika, and Sr. Bertha, form an unlikely common bond in their efforts to push back against apartheid’s brutality. Their interactions coalesce as the play’s central story. Lisa Dobbyn (Helen), and Rea Segoati (Millie) give beautifully drawn performances. Dobbyn is remarkable for her broad dramatic appeal, and Segoati (she is South African) for her honest, touching performance playing a world well known to her.

Incidental onstage drumming by Trevor David might have cut loose and made a more impactful impression, but never did. Other musical interludes offered tentative support for the onstage action. For a nation with vibrant music, it seemed a missed opportunity. The musical direction was by Zuri Alexander. The cast opened the show promisingly with the choral anthem, “Nkosi Sikeleli.” Sets by Gary Lee Reed laid out a realistic township façade. The production was briskly directed by Donald Squires.

Performances continue at The Odyssey Theatre Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays through June 29th. Tickets are $30. Call (323) 960-4412 or visit www.plays411.com/human for more information.

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