Throughout the history of theatre, playwrights who have been critical of the state have done so at the risk of their lives. The clever ones, such as Molière, have not only lived to die natural deaths, but have inspired their audiences to continue to press for progressive social change.
Athol Fugard, a South African in this mold, continually challenged his country's policy of Apartheid. His first international hit, Blood Knot, first produced in 1960, resulted in the revocation of his passport, the severity of the punishment undoubtedly lessened because Fugard is white. Later, his support in 1962 of an international boycott against the South African practice of segregating theater audiences led to further restrictions.
Despite the years and the ultimate overthrow of Apartheid, and as the Shadow Theatre Company's current production attests, Blood Knot has lost none of its original power to capture the degradation of blacks under this system and, most wonderfully, the power of their faith in overcoming this evil.
Fugard sets up his examination of the insidious psychological assaults of institutional racism by focusing his entire drama on the interplay between two brothers, one dark, the other light enough to pass for white.
|Damian Hoover as Morris and|
Cajardo Lindsey as Zachariah
Damian Hoover is the light-skinned Morris, just returned after many years away. As we enter his world, he is fastidiously maintaining a one-room shack in Korsten, a ghetto near Port Elizabeth. The walls are roughly framed and covered with tin, torn cardboard, plastic, tar paper, and wood scraps. Inside, there is barely room for two beds, one chest of drawers, a stove, a table, and two chairs.
Hoover's Morris is patient and methodical, but he gives us a sense of anxiety just below the surface. His penchant for housekeeping details is that of an experienced hand, yet his English dialect is more elegant than one would expect to find here—reflecting both an education from his mother that was different than his brother received, and years in the city living as a white man.
Every night at precisely the same time, Morris prepares hot water for his brother's aching feet, and finishes adding healing salts just before Zachariah staggers in, weary to the bone after a long day of backbreaking labor. Their silence persists until Zachariah's aches and pains have subsided and he is able to muster enough energy to talk.
Cajardo Lindsey is Zachariah, a big, strong man. When not thoroughly fatigued, he can be imaginative and comical; living in the present, he is a challenge to Morris' serious demeanor and his plans for the future.
Lindsey brings a sensuality and joie de vivre to Zachariah that is infectious. He is more experienced with women that his brother, and enjoys this fact. In response, Morris counters his sexual shortcomings by emphasizing his ability to read, save money, and establish a goal of owning some land.
Thus, within this family, Fugard has created a microcosm of South Africa itself: the dark brother a beast of burden for the light brother. Later, he carries his point further—when Zachariah encourages Morris to pretend he is white, as he did when he lived in the city—cleverly mocking the absurdity of a state philosophy based on appearances.
Building on the fine writing and construction of the play itself, director Jeffrey Nickelson elicits career-best performances from both performers, which is saying a lot, given the caliber of Hoover's and Lindsey's previous work. Linda Morten's costumes and Rex Tangle's sound design highlight the excellent craft work, and Anna Hadzi's dialect coaching adds immeasurably to the realistic ambiance.
While Apartheid ended in South Africa, racism and its effects as portrayed in Blood Knot still persists worldwide. The play stands as an inspiration to everyone committed to seeing such despicable behavior eradicated.
Shadow Theatre Company's production of Blood Knot runs through May 1st at the Ralph Waldo Emerson Center, 1420 Ogden Street, Denver. 303-837-9355.