In August 2012, one line from one play changed Ugandan history. The words “I’m gay” were uttered by the main character from “The River and the Mountain,” a play written by Beau Hopkins. In doing so, it became the first Ugandan play ever to have an openly gay character.
As a result, the producer of the play, David Cecil, was arrested for offending the Ministry of Ethics in Uganda. Cecil has since been released and the charges were dropped but he has been deported to his native U.K. as an “undesirable immigrant.”
Recently Keith Prosser, also British, was arrested for appearing in “The River and the Mountain” because the play exposed Uganda’s anti-gay policies. He is being held in a Kampala detention center.
Uganda is still trying to pass through its parliament an anti-homosexuality bill. This bill in its original form sought to punish those who were gay with the death penalty. One Member of Parliament has assured the public that the penalty has been decreased from death to life in prison, but the parliament has not made the revised bill available to the public to verify this. The measure has become informally known around the world as the “Kill the Gays” bill.
“The River and the Mountain” concerns a young man, Samson, who, in the process of exposing his corrupt boss, is suddenly elevated to a senior position in his firm. Emboldened by his new status (and slightly tipsy), Samson reveals to his best friend, Olu, that he is gay. From there the plot thickens, as Olu is preparing to become a pastor and is thus torn between keeping the hero’s secret safe or betraying him to further his own career. Meanwhile, Samson’s mother is determined to convert Samson to a heterosexual.
Though Samson’s sexuality is certainly important in this play, it is in fact merely one theme among many: corruption, justice, faith, friendship, family, betrayal and witchcraft.
University of Nebraska at Lincoln lecturer, Sarah Imes Borden, wants to shed light on this controversial piece of art while exposing the underlying social issues. Along with playwright Beau Hopkins, producer Dawn Marie Moe and fight director Ian Borden, Borden will be introducing this important work to audiences in the U.S. through a series of staged readings.
The readings, after a fundraising premiere in Lincoln, Neb., will be performed in several venues along the East Coast this March. They will feature a performance by one of the original Ugandan cast members and talkbacks held by Hopkins.
On March 21 at 8 p.m. the Spotlighters Theatre will host a reading. Admission is free; attendees encouraged to pay what they can. Donations at the event will be used to fund the project.
Borden, who used to live in Baltimore, played the role of Svetlanya in the Spotlighters production of “Chess” in 2004 giving this event a local connection. For more information, visit spotlighters.org.