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the Complete Review
the complete review - drama

Three Eritrean Plays

Solomon Dirar, Esaias Tseggai,
and Mesgun Zerai

general information | our review | links | about the authors

Title: Three Eritrean Plays
Author: various
Genre: Plays
Written: (2005)
Length: 63 pages
  • Includes:
    • A Village Dream by Mesgun Zerai
    • The Snare by Solomon Dirar
    • Aster by Esaias Tseggai
  • Edited and with an Introduction by Jane Plastow
  • Three Eritrean Plays is currently not listed at Amazon, but can be purchased directly from the African Books Collective or Michigan State University Press

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Our Assessment:

B : very short pieces, but makes for a decent introduction

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Three Eritrean Plays collects three very short pieces by contemporary Eritrean authors, all written in English while they were studying at the University of Leeds and first performed there between 2001 and 2003; as Jane Plastow explains in her Introduction, they are published: "for use in Eritrean schools to support English teaching and help teachers use drama in schools."
       The plays are very short -- two of them are only ten pages apiece, and all three take up only half of this very thin book -- but there is also considerable supporting material. In the introductory section Plastow offers some historical background, as all three plays deal with or come out of the Eritrean liberation struggle that culminated in Eritrea becoming independent in 1991 (see also Michela Wrong's "I Didn't Do It For You" for a good overview of recent Eritrean history and the conflict with Ethiopia).
       Plastow also presents information about all three playwrights -- who were all born in the 1950s, and active in the Eritrean People's Liberation Front, and who all saw combat -- and writes at some length about the plays themselves. Given the brevity of the plays, some of the scene-by-scene descriptions are superfluous, but some of the background and explication she offers is presumably of use, given that many readers will probably not know the context otherwise.
       The plays themselves are spare but quite polished. Mesgun Zerai's A Village Dream is the most ambitious and has the largest cast. It is also least specific about locale: "set in a village somewhere in Africa", it is meant to be universal. With music, choreographed steps, and a transitional scene in which a heavy rain falls and seeds of grains sprout and grow, it is also the most stylized.
       The plot is simply that the women of the village reassess their roles and find: "we do everything without any help from our husbands" So they abandon the village and retreat to the mountains, leaving the men to fend for themselves. Love (and lust) draw men and women back together, and in the end it looks like they'll work things out, as one of the women recounts that ages ago it had been men who had done all the work and walked out on their women, and the same story had unfolded, only with the roles reversed. So: "let's share the bad and good together" seems to be the solution to their problems.
       Solomon Dirar's The Snare is a three-man drama, dealing with staying true to the cause. From the description of one of the characters, Sheka Haile -- "He is greedy, smooth talking, and a good diplomat" -- it's clear who the bad guy is going to be. A local leader, he reports that a huge bounty has been put on the head of an EPLF fighter whom he has summoned to his house. Though he doesn't make it immediately clear, he is setting a trap for him, drawing his poor cousin into his plot. Dirar does a decent job of presenting smooth-talking Sheka Haile, and the money is tempting -- but, in dramatically effective fashion, the tables are, of course, eventually neatly turned. For all its predictability, it's still fairly satisfying.
       Esaias Tseggai's Aster is more directly in the line of fire, tackling the difficulty of balancing a love-life with complete commitment to the cause. With its tragic hero, suffering terrible injuries at the front, it raises interesting issues in a fairly affecting manner, though the leaps in pace and time make for a less cohesive play. There's some somewhat stilted dialogue -- including, in the climactic scene: "I love you too. Don't make me nervous. We are at the junction of love and hate." -- but it gets its message across.
       These are all plays with messages, but they aren't hammered home too blatantly. The plays have been fashioned fairly carefully and well, and all work well despite the great concision. Still, they feel almost more like scenes rather than full-fledged plays (though A Village Dream could probably be drawn out on stage at some length).
       Given the dearth of fiction (and drama and poetry) from this region available in English, Three Eritrean Plays at least offers a welcome glimpse of the creative output and potential there, and all three works certainly rise above the merely amateur.

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Three Eritrean Plays: The Workshop Theatre: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Authors:

       Eritrean authors Solomon Dirar and Esaias Tseggai were born in 1956, while Mesgun Zerai was born in 1952.

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© 2008 the complete review

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