Issue 126, Spring 1993
The African (a Zairian man) spoke, sang, recited, wept, laughed, talked with amazing rapidity. He was performing for a large audience, but specially in honor of me and a few other visitors to Zaire, a work he had created about the politics, excitements, anguishes and ironies of World War II and the years just after. He took all the roles himself. At one moment he was Churchill, at another Eisenhower, at another de Gaulle, and so on. He was Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Konrad Adenauer, John F. Kennedy and all the other leaders of the wartime and postwar world. At the same time he was speaking, crying and singing, he darted around the room, turned his face, adopted different poses, lowered his head, threw his hands in the air, fell flat on his rear, scuttled across the room on all fours.
A good many of the connections of the act were made by puns —Hey ha ha, where you build a church? It’s up on a hill, that’s why we call it Church Hill! (Enter Winston Churchill) Did I hear my name? Going to strike the animal, strike it where it sleeps. We have to Hit Lair! Ho ho, speak. (Enter Adolf Hitler) Well I am Hitlair. Who now says my name. If then when my friend feels not so strong, he’ll lean on me. He must lean on me! (Enter Benito Mussolini) Ho, I am Benito Must-Lean-on-Me. . . . Once introduced, all these characters acted out the wartime and postwar doings of their respective nations. This included the lead up to the war, the invasions of Poland and of the Low Countries, the Blitz, Dunkirk, America’s entry into the war, the Russian front, Rommel vs. Montgomery in North Africa, and so on and so on. The conclusion was an impassioned plea for peace by John F. Kennedy. At the end of it, he fell down—many spectators screamed—then got up as himself, Dogos, and bowed.
The performance lasted for about an hour. I applauded with all the strength I had left. The others on the podium applauded as well—enthusiastically, for a long time. I was weak from what he had done. I was also frightened, given the applause, that he might do it all again. He didn’t, though. Instead, he bowed, graciously (the applause continuing), then walked over into a corner to talk to a friend.