‘Since Africa’ parallels Lost Boy’s life

City Times

“Since Africa” sold out all 15 shows of its West Coast premiere at the Mo`olelo Diversionary Theatre Oct. 12-29.

The play, written by Mia McCullough and directed by one of the co-founders of Mo`olelo Performing Arts Company, Seema Sueko, is about Ater, a Lost Boy of Sudan and the two volunteers who help him acclimate to life in America: Dianne, a wealthy socialite, and Reggie, an African-American deacon.

The thematic intersections of African and Western culture are articulated through dance by the Statue, played by Nyeda Lane.

Ater is played by Alephonsion Awer Deng, a real Lost Boy who fled Sudan in 1989 during the civil war.

In “They Poured Fire on Us From the Sky: the True Story of Three Lost Boys of Sudan” a book Deng co-authored with his older brother and his cousin, Deng writes about his own journey as a seven-year-old boy across thousands of miles of war-torn country, his life in refugee camps, and finally his arrival in America in 2000.

When Deng was cast as Ater, he struggled with the idea of reliving emotions that were extremely painful.

“This is something that I should tell the American people; this is a story that needs to be told,” said Deng. “And it doesn’t have to be me, it has to be Ater.”

Deng and Sueko worked to develop Ater, a character with a personality and mannerisms which are separate from Deng’s.

“There’s a tendency for audiences or for critics to think he’s just playing himself onstage,” said Sueko. “No, he’s acting; he’s an artist 100 percent through and through.”

However Deng has lived through experiences similar to those Ater confronts in “Since Africa”: trying to get used to a completely new culture and life in America while learning to live with a violent and painful past.

“It’s been a really interesting and unique experience,” said writer Mia McCullough, “just because there’s a heightened element just having [Deng] in the show and knowing that [his] experiences actually overlap with Ater’s.”

Deng attended San Diego City College from 2003 to 2005, and he says that Spike Sorrentino’s Acting For TV classes helped him to make his stage debut. Deng has also appeared in the film “Master and Commander.”

“He’s got a lot of talent and I look forward to what’s going to come next from him,” said Sueko.

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‘Since Africa’ parallels Lost Boy’s life