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BIRO (article first published : 2004-09-14)

Courtesy of The United States Consultate tonight, I was privileged to attend a performance by Los-Angeles based actor, Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine, of his tour de force one-man dramatic piece Biro.

The production was created and adapted for the BBC. It tells the true story of a young man (known to Ntare) born and brought up in Uganda who joined the resistance force which took him to Cuba and then back to Angola to fight in the war.

When he was diagnosed HIV positive, his sister in the United States offered to help him get treatment if he could reach that country. This he did, through bypassing the legal immigration process. He joined up for an AIDS research programme in order to get his desperately-needed medication and his condition improved considerably. However, the long arm of the US law caught up with his illegal status and this, enforced by an alleged accusation of theft from his lodgings and a brawl in a bar, landed him in jail. The dramatic 90-minute monologue is set in the prison and ends with his plea for help.

Throughout the story, Ntare introduces a wealth of characters, all beautifully and often-humorously drawn. His writing is sensitive in the handling of the moment when Biro discovers his HIV status. He bemoans the fact that he has lost more friends as a result of AIDS than as a result of combat. He agonises the question “What next? How do I behave now?” The answer remains clear through the rest of the narrative – it’s all about “positive living”.

The wide Stable stage is utterly bare, Ntare’s vivid orange prison garb provides the only colour and there are no props or setting other than the slides thrown onto the back wall. Ntare is a highly accomplished photographer and film-maker so the black and white visuals were strong and evocative. He took some of the images himself and researched others.

Ntare, whose impressive CV has seen him performing all over the world, began working with rural based theatre artists in South Africa in 1996 on a grant from the William & Eva Fox Foundation. Biro is presented in collaboration with the Durban Institute of Technology and the Stable Theatre Arts Centre. The production launches the beginning of an arts, culture and heritage relationship towards community development and sustainability through theatre arts and more.

There will be a further performance at the Ekhaya Multi-Arts Centre in KwaMashu on Saturday at 16h00.

More information from Kathleen on 031 305 7600 ext 213; fax 031 307 7614. – Caroline Smart.




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