Playwright John Kani is the ultimate storyteller in the West
Coast premiere of “Nothing But the Truth.” The
production tells the story of the Makhaya family in 2000, six years
after the fall of apartheid in South Africa.
It is a story of family disputes, race relations, gender roles, age
issues and the divisions of culture.
The play takes place over the days leading up to a funeral in the
home of Sipho Makhaya, played by Kani, and his daughter Thando,
played by Warona Seane.
Sipho awaits the body of his brother Themba. When it arrives there
is merely an urn of his ashes, accompanied by an outrageous niece
from London, Mandisa MacKay, played by Esmeralda Bihl.
Mandisa, a fashion designer, has already done enough mourning for
her dead father. She is ready to move on and wants to bring her
cousin Thando along to meet designers, upsetting the balance of
power in a house controlled by Sipho. Mandisa irritates and
aggravates her uncle to the point of drinking.
Sipho’s brother Themba fled South Africa to England because
as a political activist he faced the possibility of police
brutality and/or murder.
Sipho holds resentment for his brother, who left the country and
got a college education but never worked. As a young man
Sipho’s parents told him they couldn’t afford to send
him to college but cashed in their life insurance policy to send
Themba failed to return home even after the 1994 democratic
elections and Sipho had not seen him in decades.
Themba was a ladies’ man and it is revealed that the night
before he left, Sipho found him sleeping with his wife.
Sipho’s son, who emulated Themba, was killed during student
uprisings in the struggle for equality.
“Nothing But the Truth” is poignant and gripping. The
set is dynamic and the script is raw with might, comedy and
One begins to understand the emotion of the production after
learning what the lead actor and playwright has been through.
In 1996 Kani helped to establish the National Arts Council of South
Africa, becoming the inaugural chair.
He is a man who lived through apartheid and whose younger brother
was shot by police in 1985 while reciting one of his poems at the
funeral of a 9-year-old girl killed during the riots.
“Nothing But the Truth” is based on his story and can
be seen at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles through Nov. 7.
This story of two brothers in some ways parallels South
Africa’s process of admission and absolution. It is worth
every second of the 90 minutes and every penny of the $40 for