Monday, February 13, 2006

Sorrows and Rejoicings (Ensemble)

Ensemble gets back on track with ‘Sorrows and Rejoicings’

Athol Fugard, who wrote ‘SORROWS AND REJOICINGS ’ in 2001, is a white South African. The play is now on stage at Ensemble Theatre.

Fugard, who while working as a court clerk, became aware of how Colored Africans suffered under the laws of apartheid. He decided to express his rage at the system in the form of playwriting. Thus an important voice of the “new” South Africa began to speak.

The political topics and views expressed in his plays quickly bought him into conflict with the government. In order to avoid prosecution, he produced his plays abroad. This did not satisfy the leaders of South Africa as the message of the subservience of the majority of the population started to receive international attention. As a result, they withdrew his passport.

When his plays were presented in South Africa, the mainly black audiences applauded, cried and interjected their own experiences into the productions.

With such plays as ‘BLOOD KNOT,’ ‘SIZWE BANZI IS DEAD,’ ‘ BOESMAN AND LENA,’ ‘MASTER HAROLD...AND THE BOYS,’ (a semi-autobiographical work), and ‘MY CHILDREN! MY AFRICA!,’ Fugard became an international name in theatre.

‘SORROWS AND REJOICINGS’ centers on Dawid, a man who is loved by two women, Marta (his mistress and the father of his daughter, Rebecca), and Allison, his wife.

Dawid clearly echoes the author's own sense of being "relentlessly gnawed by time." Like Fugard, he is a white writer deeply committed to black freedom, thus leading some to believe that he is, in fact, Fugard’s alter-ego.

The play takes place the day of Dawid’s funeral, shortly after he has returned to his South African home after a long period of self-exile in England. Using flashbacks, we experience the burgeoning societally unaccepted relationship between Dawid and the family’s black housekeeper, Marta; his marriage and life with white Allison; and his lack of a relationship with his abandoned daughter, Rebecca.

In a unique writing device, each of the women's remembrances of their relationship with Dawid are mostly monologues.

Fugard is noted for his obvious metaphors. For example, Rebecca stands upstage throughout the first two-thirds of the play, observing, not participating. She is separate, yet part of her mother’s and father’s lives. Allison and Rebecca frequently stand at opposite ends of the room, arms folded to underscore the “don't touch” gulf between white and black South Africans. The center of attention is a table made of a fine old native wood symbolizing, much like old and new South Africa, a long and troubled history.

The Ensemble cast is excellent. Elizabeth Townsend (Allison) develops a character which is properly British, while having a keen sense of South African history and compassion. Renee Matthews-Jackson develops a clear and compelling character as Marta. Sonia Bishop as Rebecca, the 18-year old daughter, is totally mesmerizing in her two very long soliloquies. She totally captures the stage while she rants and cries of her personal hurts, which also exemplify the hurts of her country. Robert Hawkes makes Dawid live.

Ron Newell’s set is serviceable, but the table, which is center stage in the play’s development needed to be more magnificent, to fit the constant attention which is called to it. Corby Grubb has selected African music which perfectly captures the mood of the script.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Ensemble, which generally performed to high standards last year, started this season with several weak shows. But they have found their way back with a very high quality production of Athol Fugard’s ‘SORROWS AND REJOICINGS.’ Licia Colombi’s directing is right on target. The play is well-paced and the cast all have a total grasp of their characters.