What a joy it is to be in the hands of a master playwright who knows how to structure a long act rather than a series of short scenes! Athol Fugard is one of the world's greatest living playwrights, still going strong in his eighties. His topic is his native land, South Africa, but his plays speak to universal concerns. One can't watch THE PAINTED ROCKS AT REVOLVER CREEK without thinking of all the subtle and not so subtle forms of racism at work in the US in the Age of Obama.
The heart of this play is Nukain (Leon Addison Brown), an old man when we meet him in 1981. A servant on an Afrikaans homestead with no possessions of his own, Nukain spends his free time painting beautiful patterns on the rocks that crop up from this hostile land. On this Sunday, out with his beloved eleven-year-old grandson Bukkie (Caleb McLaughlin), he is about to tackle painting the largest rock. With Bukkie's help, he turns the face of the rock into his story, a portrait of a man with a vision. Unfortunately Elmarie (Bianca Amato), the farmer's wife orders him to expunge what she sees as an ugly painting and replace it with another floral pattern. It is Bukkie, who doesn't understand the racial politics of this place, who speaks up in defense of the painting. Nukain knows he is powerless. Twenty-two years later, Bukkie is now Jonathan (Yaegel T. Welch), the principal at the local high school. Times have changed for him and for his country and the Afrikaaners rightfully feel threatened by racial violence. Jonathan has come back to restore his grandfather's painting. To do so he must get permission from Elmarie. For this to happen, the two characters have to come to understand their positions, their claims to the land they stand on. THE PAINTED ROCKS AT REVOLVER CREEK is a play about characters' connection to history and to the land. Being South Africa, it is also about race. It is also about religion and art. The first act gives us the creation of an intensely personal work of art, the second a vibrant discussion on the importance of that work of art to both the native and the settler. This may be a discussion play, but it is deeply rooted in beautifully wrought characters and lively theatrical language.
Under Fugard's detailed direction, the four actors bring the characters and their passions to life. Yaegel T. Welch is a recent emergency replacement. He still carried a script with him at the performance I saw; nonetheless, he gave a rich interpretation of Jonathan's love for his grandfatherfather, his belief in his equality and his decency in dealing with Elmarie. In the first scene Brown and McLaughlin gave us characters that were beautifully wrought. Bianca Amato did too much sighing in the second act for a woman who is supposed to be frightened and angry but captured the complexity of her character. Christopher H. Barreca's set was a convincing picture of a land that is hard to tame.
THE PAINTED ROCKS AT REVOLVER CREEK. Signature Theatre. June 3, 2015