5 September, 2002

Ntare's Biro Dazzles Las Vegas Audience

SAD: Ntare tells the trials and tribulations of being a soldier

-- He recounts the trials being a starving soldier and the pain of discovering that he has AIDS
By Opiyo Oloya
Biro, the one-person play written and acted by Los Angeles-based Ugandan artist Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine, made its first dry run last Friday night, before a rapt audience of Ugandans attending the 14th Annual Uganda-North American Convention in Las Vegas. Mwine, who spent several weeks in Uganda last spring, researching the play, delivered a stellar 90 minutes performance that drew a prolonged standing ovation from the audience. With a simple set that included a lectern, the stage lights, slide projectors, and a bright orange prison uniform, Mwine used his amazing story-telling talent with extraordinary result. Many Ugandans who spoke about the play afterwards, expressed surprise that one person could weave such a spellbinding play. Said Ms. Aisha Owomugisha, a proprietor of Selective at the Sheraton, Kampala, "I have never been to a one person play in my life and was very skeptical that one person could do a play all by himself-but Mwine was amazing, as he dazzled us with a Runyankore accent, rather than American accent. When you are here you think that our culture is dead, but thank God, someone is keeping our culture alive."
That sentiment was echoed by many in the audience of over two hundred people who gathered at the Riviera ballroom to watch the play. To a person, everyone was blown away by the story of Biro who gives a first-person account of his life prior to serving time in a US jail. Biro recounts the early days of the NRA bush war, the trial and tribulations of being a starving soldier, the pain of discovering that he has AIDS and his eventual journey to America in search of medication. The story begins at the point where he is meeting his third or fourth lawyer who meets him in a Texas jail.
Mwine who is totally believable as Biro is adept at changing his voice, and employing visual images and audio clips to transport the audience back in time, making everything appear so crystal clear. Through his tale, we follow Biro as a young NRA recruit eager for war, a seasoned soldier training in Cuba, and a dejected man suffering from AIDS in America. There is not a pin drop as his character recounts the difficulties of looking for jobs in North America, of trying to fit in, but never really fitting in. In the end the audience is totally won over by the charming former NRA soldier whose only reason for staying alive as he puts it is, "to look after my child back home in Uganda."
Though still very much a work in progress, Biro is nonetheless riveting, as a multimedia play complete with audio-visual component that enables the audience to follow the story. There is a rare picture of Rwandan president Paul Kagame who is described in the play as "totally miserable" in the bush. There are pictures of NRA recurits undergoing training and then there are sounds of army training. All these elements give Mwine the edge in holding the attention of the audience throughout the performance.
At the end, the won-over audience cheered and clapped and surged forward to meet Mwine who stood at the door, personally shaking hands with everyone in the long line.
Dr Richard Oloya from Canton, Ohio said he was astounded by the many voices that Mwine was able to bring on stage, now sounding like a man from western Uganda, and then suddenly switching to a flawless American accent, before moving back to western Uganda.
Mr. Moses Wilson, a business entrepreneur from Los Angeles, California called Biro, "a very powerful play that totally captivates the audience." Despite the enthusiastic reception, Mwine later said the play is stil very much on the drawing board, as there remain many components that need to be further tightened. Once it's fully developed, his goal is to premier the play at a large venue in Uganda.
Plans are underway to explore the possibility of a big opening night in Kampala in January, next year.
Many people interviewed said they would gladly go and see it again.

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