A selective guide to arts commentaries in print and websites elsewhere.
Introduction to Broad Street Review, plus biographies and contact points for our editors and contributors.
See a list of coming appearances by BSR's writers.
Fugard’s ‘Coming Home’ at the WilmaBY: Dan Rottenberg 11.06.2009
As her dreams collapse around her, a high-spirited South African woman discovers an unexpected silver lining. In this riveting and lyrical production, the Wilma Theater continues its long-standing role as an incubator for Athol Fugard’s continuing growth in the post-apartheid era.
Coming Home. By Athol Fugard; directed by Blanka Zizka. Through November 15, 2009 at Wilma Theater, 265 S. Broad St. (at Spruce). (15) 546-7824 or www.wilmatheater.org.
Oupa’s gift (and the Wilma’s, too)DAN ROTTENBERG
Veronica, the heroine of Athol Fugard’s Coming Home, is a high-spirited young woman who’s been forced to grow up in a hurry. As a baby on her grandfather’s South African farm not so long ago, she sang constantly; by the time she left for Capetown as a teenager to pursue a career as a cabaret singer, she was composing lyrics like, “Dream big, dream grand,/ Don’t let your life be second-hand.” But in the big city she found only a job as a Holiday Inn housekeeper and a lover who impregnated her before he himself was murdered.
When we first meet Veronica she has returned to her grandfather’s shack with a five-year-old son and a diagnosis of AIDS, only to find that the familiar rhythm of village life she hopes to resume has been shattered as well: Her steadfast foundation, her revered Oupa (that is, her grandfather), lies buried in a mass grave with victims of a recent flood. Lacking a support network of friends or family, and bereft of positive male role models or any sort of dependable government, this strong-willed woman must rely on her own devices to assure the future of her precocious son Mannetjie in what little time she has left.
Or so she thinks. As we discover in the course of this lyrical drama, Veronica possesses more resources than she realizes. Her dim-witted childhood friend Alfred, who worships and adores Veronica, is for all his intellectual shortcomings a basically sweet and decent fellow who will rise to the occasion if given the chance. Oupa, it turns out, has stashed away his government pension payments in case of emergency. The tin in which Oupa kept his pumpkin seeds now contains a potentially more valuable (albeit allegorical) commodity: all the large words Mannetjie (nine years old by the play’s end) has learned.
Perhaps Veronica’s most important resource is the spirit and memory of the dead Oupa, which reappears from time to time to provide the guidance he can no longer offer in person. (Among other things, Oupa points out that he and Alfred share some traits in common.) When Alfred deplores the injustice of an early frost that destroyed his pumpkin crop, Oupa recalls harboring the same feelings as a young man. “Dig them up, Alfred,” he advises, “and plant again.” By the play’s end, as the once-dominant Veronica lies dying in her bed, the three men in her life reach an accommodation, leaving no doubt in our minds that Veronica’s family and her spirit will indeed survive her and perhaps even triumph.
Fugard, a white South African, first made his mark by dramatizing the brutal impact of racial apartheid on the lives of black South Africans. In that respect his plays were above all powerful political statements. But Coming Home is set in our own recent present, a good decade after apartheid ended. Now the black-dominated government is not so much oppressive as indifferent and incompetent. (Both Veronica’s pregnancy and her AIDS can be blamed on government-issued condoms that turned out to be defective.) Coming Home reflects the impressive growth of an already accomplished playwright into a realm where politics is no longer a text but merely a subtext.
In this riveting production, the Wilma Theater continues its long-standing role as an incubator for Fugard’s continuing evolution. Director Blanka Zizka provides all the technical expertise to effectively translate Fugard’s poetic prose to the stage, including the use of a dialect coach (Lynne Innerst) to capture the legitimate sound of spoken dialogue in the Karoo region. The wiry Patrice Johnson is perfectly cast as Veronica, a fireball burning out. So are Nyambi Nyambi as the oafish but gentle Alfred, and Lou Ferguson as the grand grandfather of distant memory. Anne Patterson’s set effectively captures Veronica’s efforts to recapture the remembered warmth of her grandfather’s shack with little touches like flowers, a new curtain, a tablecloth and a comfy bedspread.
In a constantly changing world, sometimes we forget that good new things may replace what we’ve lost. In Coming Home, Oupa provides from his unmarked mass grave both the spiritual and material support for his family’s necessary transition. It’s very similar to what the Wilma has done for Fugard during South Africa’s post-apartheid transition.
Respond to this Article