Unity Theatre, Brenham’s small town, professional theatre, explores the personal stories of two families living in South Africa with The Syringa Tree by Pamela Gien.

Winner of the 2001 Obie Award for Best Play, The Syringa Tree is a personal story of an abiding love between two families—one black, one white—and the two children that are born into their shared household in early 1960s South Africa. With both humor and palpable fear, six-year-old Elizabeth Grace tries to make sense of the chaos, magic and darkness of Africa. At first seen through the eyes of a child, the story of these families’ destinies spans four generations, from early apartheid to the present-day free South Africa.

Jim Johnson (Billy Bishop Goes to War, Talley’s Folly, Harvey, Arms and the Man, and Dancing at Lughnasa) directs this powerful piece, while also serving as dialect coach. Jim teaches voice, speech and dialects at the University of Houston, and also runs the dialect website He says "It's been great to work on a one-person show from this side of it; I'm having wonderful flashbacks to working on Billy Bishop Goes to War for Unity. The challenges for The Syringa Tree are even greater: more characters, more complex accents, and an intense plot that covers decades of living in apartheid in South Africa." And for anyone concerned about the accents being a barrier to understanding the words of the show, Jim says “Shanae'a is doing a very good job of taking on the essential elements of these varied accents while making sure that her speech is still clear and understandable for people who aren't familiar with these accents. I'm very excited to share this with Unity's audiences”.

Shanae’a Moore (Little Women: The Musical, Jerry Finnegan’s Sister, The Fantasticks, The Philadelphia Story, The Chalk Garden and You Never Can Tell) portrays over 20 individuals in this challenging journey. Asked about the specific demands required for this performance, Shanae’a says “I am currently playing 25 characters, some large and some small but each with their own journey. The challenge of that is not just being able to "seamlessly" switch between them but to remember where in their emotional journey I left them and where they go from there. This play is based on a true story and true people and just because it's only me running around, it doesn't mean they can be any less realized than if there were twenty actors around me. Daunting... but it's like climbing a mountain. You have to train for it, and Jim is invaluable in helping me. Through learning about this show, I have fallen in love with South Africa and the kind of people who thrive there. Life is so rich there, though many times troubled... like us all I think.”

The Syringa Tree runs for two weekends at Unity Theatre in the intimate studio space, previewing on Thursday, November 2nd, opening on Friday, November 3rd, and playing through Sunday, November 12th.  Performances are Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm, and Sundays at 4:00 pm. Tickets are $25 and they are reserved (open seating), however $17 tickets are available for Preview, November 2nd, student tickets are always $15, and all unsold seats are $15 at 15 minutes prior to any performance. A talk-back with the cast and crew immediately follows the Preview performance, and a Director’s Chat will take place prior to the show on the evening of Saturday, November 11th.  Subscribers can begin making their reservations October 16th, and tickets go on sale to the public on October 23rd. Reservations can be made through the Unity Theatre Box Office at 300 Church Street, open Monday through Friday, 10:00 am until 2:00 pm, by phone at (979) 830-8358, or by email to On October 23rd, tickets are released to be purchased online at For more information, visit the website at  Story and artwork courtesy of Unity Theatre.


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