War Cries at St. James

Diocesan Press Service. April 7, 1964 [XX-2]

Zulu war cries rang out in New York's St. James' Church Passion Sunday.

The occasion was a special service of Evening Prayer at which the entire cast of "Sponono", a new play from South Africa by Alan Paton and Krishna Shah, was welcomed to America.

The cast of 25 African players and singers arrived in the United States two weeks before to begin rehearsals aimed at a Broadway opening on Easter Monday, March 30.

The American producer, Mary K. Frank, is a member of St. James' Church, and it was natural for the rector, the Rev. Arthur Lee Kinsolving, to offer the church for the special service.

Mrs. Frank, Meshack Mosia, the company manager, the Rev. Canon William J. Chase and the Rev. Frederick Hill worked out the details of a startling, different and tasteful event of the theatre in the church.

Following Evening Prayer, the cast, dressed in customary African blankets, loin cloths and conical straw hats, assembled at the head of the choir steps to sing typical folk songs and hymns from the mountains and veldt of southern Africa. Most of the songs were in the languages of their nationalities: Xhosa, Sesuto, Zulu. They sang a spiritual, 'Lord, It's Me', in a swinging rhythm. The climax occurred when five men in skin loin cloths and carrying wooden spears and shields performed and sang the vibrant, athletic Zulu war dance to the accompaniment of rhythmic clapping and cries of the rest of the group.

Osborne Ferdinand, company choir leader, explained - in English - each number.

"Sponono" was written by Mr. Paton, author of CRY, THE BELOVED COUNTRY and TOO LATE THE PHALAROPE, and Mr. Shah, who also directs "Sponono", from several short stories by Mr. Paton. The story concerns an African boys' reformatory and the effort of its outstanding young man and the white principal to communicate with one another across the barriers of age, race and culture. "Sponono" is a drama with music. The music is both traditional and original, written and arranged by another South African, Gideon Nxumalo.

Alan Paton is an Anglican layman who last year was awarded the Order of Simon of Cyrene by Archbishop Joost de Blank for outstanding service to the Church of South Africa. In 1960, following a trip to the United States to receive the Freedom House award, he was deprived of his passport by the South African government. Mr. Paton is a native of South Africa.

A congregation of 800 people attended the service at St. James'. The collection was designated - at the suggestion of Alan Paton - for the Edendale Home for Crippled Children, one of the two of its kind serving Africans in the Republic of South Africa.