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UNC student’s play illuminates injustices

Courtesy of Susannah Ryan

Courtesy of Susannah Ryan

She had been interested in U.S. relations with Central Africa ever since she saw movies about it growing up.

“I find it so interesting that a lot of people presume that there’s no common ground or no possible beginning for a relationship with people who are so dramatically different from us,” she said. “And I’ve always been interested in reconciling these divides.”

Ryan, a graduate student in UNC’s Department of Communication, decided to merge her research of Central Africa with theater, which she had also been interested in since she was young.

The result, “Brabo,” is currently playing in Swain Hall. Proceeds from the play are going to Women for Women International, a nonprofit organization that gives practical and moral support to women survivors of war.

Ryan said she decided to write a play because of the magic of the theater.

“It just imprints on our memory in a really effective way — in a powerful way.”

“Brabo” focuses on Belgian King Leopold II’s colonial rule in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which occurred during the late 1800s and early 1900s, a time when colonialism was in its final stages.

“Slavery was kind of internationally frowned upon at this point, which is why he became such a master of propaganda,” Ryan said. “He masqueraded the Belgian presence in the Congo as charity and as a good thing, and he fooled a lot of people, including my lead character at the beginning.”

Daniel Doyle, a UNC student who plays the role of Dr. Jon Hart in “Brabo,” said he read historical reports of abuses in the Congo, researching pictures and documents.

“There are some pictures and documents of the stuff that would happen in the Congo, so when I was talking about these unspeakable horrors, I could at least think of what they were,” he said.

UNC graduate Lazarus Simmons plays the main character, Henry Martin, in “Brabo.”

He said he hopes people understand the implications things like King Leopold’s rule have on countries.

“Things that happened so long ago affect what a place is like today,” he said. “How bad and how horrible it is to exist there is a direct result of King Leopold’s ideas and his force and his actions in a country that wasn’t his own.”

Ryan said the play will be troubling but hopes it will also be illuminating.

“We’re able to care about people who we think we have nothing in common with. We’re able to feel connected and to feel responsible for people who we normally wouldn’t have thought of in our everyday basis,” she said. “I think what this play does is it kind of expands our horizon about what we’re able to care about.”

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