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A CurtainUp Review
Breakfast with Mugabe
By Tyler Plosia
Is he best demonized as the type of undemocratic tyrant we commonly see in media representation? Or is the play better-served by humanizing him so that an audience can attempt to empathize with such a difficult character? Between Fraser Grace's surprising script and David Shookhoff's nuanced direction, the answer is not a simple one.
In Breakfast. . . President Mugabe (played deftly by Michael Rogers) is a haunted man, plagued by visions of a ngozi, the apparitional appearance of one of the deceased. In the President's case, it's the ghost of a man he fought with in the struggle for the independence of Zimbabwe — a man who happened to have lost his life around the time Mugabe was estranged from his beloved, dying first wife.
The fact that this premise rings of Shakespeare is not dulled down by the surrounding players. The President is urged by his second wife, the dubiously named Grace, to consult a psychiatrist in order to quell the ngozi spell. Grace, while at first seemingly well-intentioned, is a reflection of Lady Macbeth's cold manipulation by the end of the play.
But Mugabe doesn't mirror his Shakespearean counterpart in the same way. Macbeth ignores the warning signs his apparitions present, and his ignorance contributes to his downfall. Mugabe confronts his ghosts and uses the confrontation to further dominate those around him, including the white psychiatrist assigned to help him.
For all of its classically-inspired tension and points of punctuated emotion, Breakfast With Mugabe does drag in spots. There are conversational exchanges bogged down by explanations of characters from Mugabe's past (whose immediate relevance in questionable, to say the least). Ultimately, though, the play is an example of historical (or ahistorical) theater at its best: it thrives without the necessity of the historical context it's placed in. In fact, it might even succeed in spite of its history, because it allows us to grow to understand and feel for the tyrant (before reminding us that, yes, we can hate him,