Sunday, February 12, 2012

Blood Knot ***

(Please click on the title to see the full review.)
As the opening play in its magnificent new three-theater complex at W. 42nd Street and 10th Avenue, Signature Theatre has mounted a revival of Athol Fugard's 1961 two-character play, directed by the playwright himself. In this production, now in previews, two fine actors, Scott Shepherd (Gatz) and Colman Domingo (Scottsboro Boys), take over the roles originated by Fugard and Zakes Mokae. Two half-brothers -- Morris, light enough to pass for white, and Zachariah, quite dark -- live in a squalid hut in a colored area of Port Elisabeth, South Africa. Zachariah works as a gatekeeper whose job it is to keep out black children while Morris, who has returned after many years away, keeps house and attentively looks after his brother. Morris has dreams of saving enough money to start a small two-man farm. Zach craves female companionship. Morris talks him into starting a pen pal correspondence with an 18-year old girl who lives far away. Things get complicated when she turns out to be white and writes that she is coming to town on holiday. The decision to spend their hard-earned savings on a gentleman's suit for Morris to pretend to be his brother and meet the girl in his place leads to unintended consequences. Long-suppressed feelings arise and bring out the toxic side of the brothers' relationship. This is the play that made Fugard's career: in it, both his strengths and weakness are already evident. The first act drags on a bit, while the second act has a surfeit of drama. For me, the play's requirement for the characters to serve both as vivid individuals as well as symbols in a parable of apartheid leads to some awkwardness. I have to confess that I have long admired Fugard more than I have enjoyed most of his plays. Christopher H. Barreca's set, Susan Hilferty's costumes, Rick Sordelet's fight direction, and Barbara Rubin's dialect coaching are all excellent.

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