Encore Michigan

Review: ‘Death of A Driver’ at Theatre NOVA

Review May 27, 2024 David Kiley

Death of A Driver, written by Will Snider and directed by Shelby R. Seeley for this production by Theatre NOVA here, presents a compelling exploration of ambition, ethics, and the human cost of progress. This play, set against the backdrop of Kenya’s road construction projects, is a poignant portrayal of the complexities inherent in cross-cultural professional relationships.

The story revolves around Sarah (Sarah B. Stevens) , a young and idealistic American engineer and aspiring MBA looking to make her mark on the world, and Kennedy, her Kenyan driver ( Jalen Wilson-Nelem) and eventual business partner. Sarah arrives in Kenya brimming with enthusiasm to “make a difference” by constructing roads to improve connectivity for isolated communities. Stevens’ portrayal of this driven–yet somewhat naïve– haracter is both earnest and nuanced, capturing the internal conflict between her genuine desire to help and her lack of understanding of the local socio-political landscape.

Jalen Wilson-Nelem delivers a standout performance as Kennedy, imbuing Kennedy with a multifaceted personality—ambitious and charismatic, yet burdened with the weight of local expectations and the harsh political realities of his environment, which is dominated by tribalism. His tribe is not in power, and his people are very oppressed at the hands of the ruling tribe.

The dynamic nd chemistry of Stevens and Wilson-Nelem and is compelling, as their characters navigate the often turbulent waters of their partnership. The tension between their ideals and realities, and their growing but fraught personal connection, is tautly brought to life through their performances.

Will Snider’s script is sharp and thought-provoking, effectively delving into themes of power, ethical dilemmas, and cultural misunderstandings. The dialogue is engaging and layered, probing the complexities of the characters’ motivations and the broader implications of their actions. Snider doesn’t shy away from highlighting the unintended consequences of well-meaning interventions like Sarah’s, making the audience ponder the true impact of development work done by wealthy westerners in third-world countries.

The minimalist set design by Amanda Bates, complemented by Jeff Alder’s evocative lighting, as well as Snider’s writing, transports the audience to the heart of Kenya. Costume design is handled by Micha Mallet. Sound design is by Kennikki Jones-Jones. Props design is by  Carla Milarch. The accent coach is Lynnae Lehfeldt, and Wilson-Nelem’s Kenyan accent is authentic and consistent throughout,

Death of A Driver is more than a story about development work; it is a deep dive into the moral and ethical quandaries faced by individuals attempting to bridge vastly different worlds. The play poses critical questions about the nature of aid, the complexity of good intentions, and the often-overlooked repercussions of actions taken in the name of progress.

Death of A Driver challenges audiences to reflect on their own perceptions and the broader impact of their actions, as well as exposing the intersection of personal ambition and global ethics, and the enduring power of human connections amidst cultural divides.

Week of 7/15/2024

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