Fugard, Athol 1932–
Fugard, Athol 1932–
Fugard, Athol 1932–
(Harold Athol Fugard)
PERSONAL: Born June 11, 1932, in Middelburg, Cape Province, South Africa; son of Harold David (an owner of a general store) and Elizabeth Magdalena (a tea room manager; maiden name, Potgiefer) Fugard; married Sheila Meiring (a novelist, poet, and former actress), 1956; children: Lisa. Education: Attended Port Elizabeth Technical College, 1946–50, and University of Cape Town, 1950–53. Hobbies and other interests: Jogging, music, poetry.
CAREER: Actor, director, and playwright. Crew member of tramp steamer bound from Port Sudan to the Far East, 1953–55; Port Elizabeth Evening Post, Port Elizabeth, South Africa, journalist, 1954; South African Broadcasting Corporation, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town, reporter, 1955–57; Fordsburg Native Commissioner's Court, Johannesburg, South Africa, clerk, 1958; African Theatre Workshop, Sophiatown, South Africa, cofounder, 1958–59; New Africa Group, Brussels, Belgium, cofounder, 1960; Serpent Players, Port Elizabeth, cofounder, director, and actor, 1963–; Ijinle Company, London, cofounder, 1966; The Space (experimental theatre), Cape Town, cofounder, 1972. Has worked as actor and director in various theatre productions in New York City, London, and South Africa. Actor in television film The Blood Knot for British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC-TV), 1968; actor in motion pictures, including Boesman and Lena, 1973, Meetings with Remarkable Men, 1979, Marigolds in August, 1980, Gandhi, 1982, The Killing Fields, 1984, and The Road to Mecca, 1992.
MEMBER: Royal Society of Literature (fellow), American Academy of Arts and Letters, Dramatists Guild, Mark Twain Society.
AWARDS, HONORS: Obie Award for distinguished foreign play from Village Voice, 1971, for Boesman and Lena; Plays & Players Award for best new play, 1973, for Sizwe Banzi Is Dead; London Theatre Critics Award, 1974; Ernest Artaria Award, Locarno Film Festival, 1977; Golden Bear, Berlin Film Festival, 1980; Yale University fellow, 1980; Antoinette Perry Award nominations for best play, 1975, for Sizwe Banzi Is Dead and the Island, 1981, for A Lesson from Aloes, 1982, for "Master Harold"… and the Boys, and 1986, for Blood Knot; New York Drama Critics Circle Award for best play, 1982, for A Lesson from Aloes; Drama Desk Award and New York Drama Critics Circle Award for best play, 1983, and Evening Standard Award, London, 1984, for "Master Harold"… and the Boys; Commonwealth Award, 1984, for contribution to the American theatre; Drama League Award, 1986; New York Drama Critics Circle Award, 1988; Helen Hayes Award, 1990, for direction; honorary degrees from Yale University, Georgetown University, Natal University, Rhodes University, Cape Town University, Emory University, and the University of Port Elizabeth, South Africa.
Tsotsi (novel), Collings, 1980, Random House (New York, NY), 1981.
Notebooks, 1960–1977, edited by Mary Benson, Faber (London, England), 1983, Knopf (New York, NY), 1984.
Writer and Region: Athol Fugard (essay), Anson Phelps Stokes Institute (New York, NY), 1987.
Cousins: A Memoir, Theatre Communications Group (New York, NY), 1997.
No-Good Friday (also see below), first produced in Cape Town, South Africa, 1956.
Nongogo (also see below), first produced in Cape Town, 1957; produced in New York City, 1978.
The Cell, produced in Cape Town, 1957.
Klaas and The Devil, produced in Cape Town, 1957.
The Blood Knot (first produced in Johannesburg, South Africa, and London, 1961; produced Off-Broadway, 1964; also see below), Simondium (Johannesburg, South Africa), 1963, Odyssey Press (New York, NY), 1964 (published with other plays as Blood Knot and Other Plays, Theatre Communications Group [New York, NY], 1991).
Hello and Goodbye (first produced in Johannesburg, 1965; produced Off-Broadway at Sheridan Square Playhouse, September 18, 1969; also see below), A.A. Balkema (Cape Town, South Africa), 1966, Samuel French (New York, NY), 1971.
The Coat, first produced in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, 1966 (bound with The Third Degree, by Don MacLennan, A.A. Balkema [Cape Town, South Africa], 1971).
The Occupation: A Script for Camera, published in Te n One-Act Plays, edited by Cosmos Pieterse, Heinemann (New York, NY), 1968.
Boesman and Lena (first produced in Grahamstown, South Africa, 1969; produced Off-Broadway at Circle in the Square, June 22, 1970; produced on the West End at Royal Court Theatre Upstairs, July 19, 1971; also see below), Buren, 1969, revised and rewritten edition, Samuel French (New York, NY), 1971 (published with The Blood Knot, People Are Living There [also see below], and Hello and Goodbye as Boesman and Lena, and Other Plays, Oxford University Press [Oxford, England], 1978).
People Are Living There (first produced in Cape Town at Hofmeyr Theatre, June 14, 1969; produced on Broadway at Forum Theatre, Lincoln Center, November 18, 1971), Oxford University Press (Oxford England), 1970, Samuel French (New York, NY), 1976.
The Last Bus, first produced in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, 1970.
Friday's Bread on Monday, first produced in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, 1970.
Orestes, produced in Cape Town, 1971 (published with other plays in Theatre One: New South African Drama, edited by Stephen Gray, Donker [Johannesburg, South Africa], 1978).
(With John Kani and Winston Ntshona) Sizwe Banzi Is Dead (also see below), first produced in Cape Town, 1972, produced in New York City, 1974.
Statements (contains Sizwe Banzi Is Dead, The Island, [also see below] and Statements after an Arrest under the Immorality Act, first produced in Cape Town, 1972; produced in London, 1974), Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 1974.
(With John Kani and Winston Ntshona) Die Hodoshe Span, first produced in Cape Town at The Space Theatre, 1973; revised as The Island (also see below) first produced in South Africa, 1972; produced on the West End at Royal Court Theatre, December, 1973; produced in New York at Edison Theatre, November, 1974 (published with Sizwe Banzi Is Dead as Sizwe Banzi Is Dead and The Island, VIking Press [New York, NY], 1976).
Three Port Elizabeth Plays: The Blood Knot, Hello and Goodbye, Boesman and Lena, Viking (New York, NY), 1974.
Dimetos, first produced in Edinburgh, 1975, produced in London and New York City, 1976 (published with No-Good Friday and Nongogo as Dimetos and Two Early Plays, Oxford University Press [Oxford, England], 1977).
(With Ross Devenish) The Guest: An Episode in the Life of Eugene Marais (screenplay; also see below), Donker (Johannesburg, South Africa), 1977.
A Lesson from Aloes (first produced in Johannesburg, December, 1978; produced in New York, 1980), Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 1981, Random House (New York, NY), 1981.
The Drummer, produced in Louisville, Kentucky, 1980.
(With Ross Devenish) Marigolds in August (screenplay), Donker (Johannesburg, South Africa), 1982 (published with The Guest as Marigolds in August and The Guest: Two Screenplays, Theatre Communications Group [New York, NY], 1992).
"Master Harold"… and the Boys (first produced in New Haven, Connecticut, March, 1982; produced on Broadway at Lyceum Theatre, May 5, 1982), Knopf (New York, NY), 1982, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 1983 (published with The Blood Knot, Hello and Goodbye, and Boesman and Lena as Selected Plays, Oxford University Press, 1987).
The Road to Mecca (first produced in New Haven, 1984; produced in London at Lyttelton Theatre, March 1, 1985; produced in New York at Promenade Theatre, April, 1988), Faber, (Boston, MA), 1985.
A Place with the Pigs: A Personal Parable, (produced in New Haven, 1987; also see below), Faber (Boston, MA), 1988.
My Children! My Africa! (produced in Johannesburg and New York City, 1989), Theatre Communications Group (New York, NY), 1990.
Playland, first produced in Cape Town, 1992 (published with A Place with the Pigs as Playland and A Place with the Pigs, Theatre Communications Group [New York, NY], 1993).
The Township Plays (contains No-Good Friday, Nongogo, The Coat, Sizwe Banzi Is Dead, and The Island), Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 1993.
My Life (also see below), first produced in Graham-stown, South Africa, National Festival of the Arts, July 8, 1994.
Valley Song, (produced in Market Theater, Johannesburg, and McCarter Theater, Princeton, NJ, 1995), Theatre Communications Group (New York, NY), 1996 (published with My Life as My Life and Valley Song, Hodder and Stoughton, and Witwatersrand University Press [Johannesburg, South Africa], 1996).
The Captain's Tiger: A Memoir for the Stage (produced at City Center Stage, New York, 1999), Withwatersrand University Press (Johannesburg, South Africa), 1997, Theatre Communications Group (New York, NY), 1999.
Sorrows and Rejoicings (first produced at the Second Stage Theater, New York, 2002), Theatre Communications Group (New York, NY), 2001.
Author of teleplays Mille Miglia and The Guest at Steenkampskraal. Produced screenplays include Boesman and Lena (based on his play), 1972, The Guest, 1976, Meetings with Remarkable Men, 1979, Marigolds in August, 1980, Gandhi, 1982, and The Killing Fields, 1984. Plays reprinted in various anthologies, including Text & Teaching: The Search for Excellence, edited by Michael Collins, Georgetown University Press, 1991.
WORK IN PROGRESS: A play about Hildegard of Bingen, a twelfth-century German abbess.
SIDELIGHTS: As a white child growing up in segregated South Africa, Athol Fugard resisted the racist upbringing society offered him. Nevertheless, the boy who would become, in the words of Gillian MacKay of Maclean's, "perhaps South Africa's most renowned literary figure, and its most eloquent anti-apartheid crusader abroad" did not completely escape apartheid's influence—he insisted that the family's black servants call him Master Harold, and he even spat at one of them. Fugard told MacKay that the servant, an "extraordinary" man who had always treated him as a close friend, "grieved for the state" of Fugard's soul and forgave him instead of beating him "to a pulp."
Fugard never forgot this incident, which he transformed into a powerful scene in the play, "Master Harold"… and the Boys. He told Lloyd Richards of Paris Review that the event is like a deep stain which has "soaked into the fabric" of his life. In Fugard's career as a playwright, director, and actor, he has forced himself and his audiences to consider their own "stains." As Frank Rich remarked in a 1985 New York Times review of The Blood Knot, "Mr. Fugard doesn't allow anyone, least of all himself, to escape without examining the ugliest capabilities of the soul."
Despite Fugard's insistence that he is not a political writer and that he speaks for no one but himself, his controversial works featuring black and white characters have found favor with critics of apartheid. According to Brendan Gill of the New Yorker, The Blood Knot, the play that made Fugard famous, "altered the history of twentieth-century theatre throughout the world" as well as the world's "political history." Not all critics of apartheid, however, have appreciated Fugard's works. Some "see a white man being a spokesman for what has happened to black people and they are naturally intolerant," Fugard explained to Paul Allen in New Statesman and Society.
Whether Fugard's theatrical explorations of passion, violence, and guilt played a role in undermining apartheid or not, it is clear that he was involved in breaking physical and symbolic barriers to integration. He defied the apartheid system by founding the first enduring black theater company in South Africa, by collaborating with black writers, and by presenting black and white actors on stage together for integrated audiences. He insisted upon performing plays for local audiences in South Africa as well as for those in New York City and London; his plays carried messages that people around the world needed to hear. Even after the government took Fugard's passport and banned his work, he refused to consider himself an exile or to renounce his country. Love, and not hate for South Africa, Fugard maintained, would help it break the chains of apartheid. "Wouldn't it be ironic if South Africa could teach the world something about harmony?," he asked MacKay.
Fugard is highly regarded by literary and theater critics. Stephen Gray of New Theatre Quarterly noted that the author has been called "the greatest active playwright in English." His works are renowned for their multifaceted, marginalized characters, realistic yet lyrical dialogue, and carefully crafted, symbolic plots. Critics have also praised Fugard's ability to write scenes which elicit emotion without declining into melodrama. Fugard has forged new paths in theater by directing and acting in many of his own plays and by writing and composing plays with the actors who perform in them.
Fugard credits his parents with shaping his insights about South African society. As a child, he developed close relationships with both his English-speaking South African father, Harold, and his mother, Elizabeth, the daughter of Dutch-speaking Afrikaners. Harold, a jazz musician and amputee who spent a great deal of time in bed, amused the boy with fantastic stories and confused him with his unabashed bigotry. Fugard's mother Elizabeth supported the family by efficiently managing their tea room. In an interview with Jamaica Kincaid for Interview, Fugard described his mother as "an extraordinary woman" who could "barely read and write." In Fugard's words, she was "a monument of decency and principle and just anger" who encouraged Fugard to view South African society with a thoughtful and critical eye.
If Fugard learned the power of words from his father, and if he discovered how to question society from his mother, he gained an understanding of the complexity of human nature from both parents. Like Fugard's characters, his parents were neither entirely good or evil. Nevertheless, as Fugard explained to Kincaid, "I think at a fairly early age I became suspicious of what the system was trying to do to me…. I became conscious of what attitudes it was trying to implant in me and what prejudices it was trying to pass on to me." Fugard fed his intellectual appetite with conversations with his mother and daily trips to the local library. By the time he began college, he knew he wanted to be a writer. He accepted a scholarship at the University of Cape Town and studied philosophy, but he left school before graduating to journey around the Far East on a steamer ship.
At this time in his life, Fugard entertained notions of writing a great South African novel. Yet his first attempt at writing a novel, as he saw it, was a failure, and he destroyed it. After Fugard met and married Sheila Meiring, an out-of-work South African actress, he developed an interest in writing plays. The Cell and Klaas and the Devil were the first results of this ambition.
Not until after Fugard began to keep company with a community of black writers and actors near Johannesburg did he experience a revelation in his work. During this time, he witnessed the frustration of the black writers and learned the intricacies of a system which shrewdly and cruelly thwarted their efforts to live and work freely. The plays he penned at this time, No-Good Friday and Nongogo, were performed by Fugard and his black actor friends for private audiences.
In 1959 Fugard moved to England to write. His work received little attention there, and Fugard began to realize that he needed to be in South Africa to follow his muse. Upon his return home in 1961, Fugard wrote a second novel. Although he tried to destroy this work, a pair of graduate students later found the only surviving copy, and it was published in 1981. Critics have noticed the presence of many of the elements which would re-emerge in Fugard's more famous plays in this novel, Tsotsi.
Tsotsi portrays the life of David, a young black man whose nickname, "Tsotsi," means "hoodlum." Tsotsi spends his time with his gang of thieving, murderous friends. He has no family and cannot remember his childhood. It is not until a woman he is about to attack gives him a box with a baby in it, and David gives the baby his name, that he begins to experience sympathy and compassion, and to recall his childhood. When David is about to kill a crippled old man he has been pursuing, he suddenly remembers how his mother was arrested and never came home, and how he began to rove with a pack of abandoned children. It is not long before he recalls the trauma that led to his violent life on the streets. Fugard does not allow David's character to revel in his newly discovered emotions or to continue his search for God: at the novel's end, David is crushed under a bulldozer in an attempt to save David, the baby.
Critics appreciate Tsotsi for the insight it provides into the lives of even minor characters. Fugard did not allow his readers to categorize characters as "good" or "bad"; instead, he forced readers to understand their complexity. In the New York Times Book Review, Ivan Gold called Tsotsi "a moving and untendentious book" which demonstrates Fugard's ability to "uncannily insinuate himself into the skins of the oppressed majority and articulate its rage and misery and hope." Although Barbara A. Bannon in Publishers Weekly commented that Tsotsi is "altogether different in tone" from some of his plays, she also observed that the "milieu is much the same as the one that has made Fugard … the literary conscience of South Africa."
While Fugard generally works on one project at a time (typically writing with pens instead of word processors), he wrote Tsotsi and The Blood Knot simultaneously. The inspiration for The Blood Knot came when the author walked into a room and saw his brother asleep in bed one night. His brother had lived a difficult life, and his pain was apparent in his face and body. Realizing that there was nothing he could do to save his brother from suffering, Fugard experienced guilt. By writing The Blood Knot, Fugard recalled to Richards in Paris Review, he "was trying to examine a guilt more profound than racial guilt—the existential guilt that I feel when another person suffers, is victimized, and I can do nothing about it. South Africa afforded me the most perfect device for examining this guilt."
The Blood Knot is the story of two brothers born to the same mother. Morris, who has light skin, can "pass" for white; he confronts the truth about his identity when he returns home to live with his dark-skinned brother, Zachariah. Although the opening scene of the play finds Morris preparing a bath for hard-working Zachariah's feet, it soon becomes clear that the brothers' relationship is a tenuous one. The tension between the brothers is heightened when Zach's white pen pal (a woman who thinks Zach is white) wants to meet him, and Morris must pretend to be the white man with whom she has been corresponding.
Morris's attempts to look and sound white are painful for both brothers: To convincingly portray a white man, Morris must treat his black brother with the cruelty of a racist. In his role as a white man, Morris sits in the park and calls insults at his brother, who chases black children from the presence of his "white" brother. By the last scene, the "game" is out of control, and Zach tries to kill Morris. According to Robert M. Post in Ariel, the brothers in The Blood Knot "are typical victims of the system of apartheid and bigotry" and "personify the racial conflict of South Africa."
Fugard had little support in producing the play; it was not until actor Zakes Mokae joined the project that the production emerged. As a result of this collaboration, the first production of The Blood Knot was controversial not only for its content, but also because it featured a black actor and a white actor on stage together. Fugard played the light-skinned brother who "passes" for a white man, while Mokae played the darker-skinned brother. The Blood Knot opened in front of a mixed-race, invitation-only audience in a run-down theatre. As Derek Cohen noted in Canadian Drama, this first production of The Blood Knot "sent shock waves" through South Africa. "Those who saw the initial performance knew instinctively that something of a revolution had taken place in the stodgily Angloid cultural world of South Africa," he wrote. "Whites, faced boldly with some inescapable truths about what their repressive culture and history had wrought, were compelled to take notice."
Responses to The Blood Knot varied. As Cohen notes, some Afrikaners believed that the play's message was that blacks and whites could not live together in peace, and some black critics called the work racist. Many now accept the interpretation of the play as a sad commentary on the way racism has twisted and tangled our understanding of brotherhood and humanity. More specifically, according to Cohen, The Blood Knot is "about the hatred which South African life feeds on."
According to Dennis Walder in his book Athol Fugard, many of Fugard's plays "approximate … the same basic model established by The Blood Knot: a small cast of 'marginal' characters is presented in a passionately close relationship embodying the tensions current in their society, the whole first performed by actors directly involved in its creation, in a makeshift, 'fringe' or 'unofficial' venue." Since the first production of The Blood Knot, the substance of Fugard's plays as well as the means of their production have reflected the historical circumstances in which they evolved. Fugard insists that individual performances of each of his plays represent the legitimate play; he personally selects the actors and also continues to direct and act in them himself.
Boesman and Lena, produced in 1969, was Fugard's next great success; Cohen called it "possibly the finest of Fugard's plays." This work develops around the image of an old, homeless woman Fugard once saw, presenting a homeless couple (both "colored") who wander without respite. According to Cohen, it is a "drama of unrelieved and immitigable suffering" which becomes "more intense as the characters, impotent against the civilization of which they are outcasts, turn their fury against each other."
Fugard suffered from writer's block after he wrote Boesman and Lena, but went on to work in collaboration with actors to create Orestes in 1971. Orestes developed as a collection of images which, Walder remarked, "defies translation into a script" and explores "the effect of violence upon those who carry it out."
Fugard's next project began after two amateur actors, John Kani and Winston Ntshona, asked Fugard to help them become professional actors. As Fugard explained to Richards in his Paris Review interview, "at that point in South Africa's theater history … the notion that a black man could earn a living being an actor in South Africa was just the height of conceit." Nevertheless, the trio decided to create their own play. Three plays eventually emerged from this plan in 1972—The Island, Sizwe Banzi Is Dead, and Statements after an Arrest under the Immorality Act, also known as The Statements Trilogy or The Political Trilogy.
In these plays, personal experiences, along with the direction of Fugard, combine to provoke audiences. Post commented that The Island and Statements share "the basic conflict of the individual versus the government." In The Island, prisoners (portrayed by John and Winston) in a South African jail stage Sophocles's Antigone; the play within the play suggests that, according to Post, the "conflict between individual conscience and individual rights … and governmental decrees … corresponds to the conflict between the individual conscience and the rights of black prisoners and white government." Statements follows the relationship between a white librarian and a black teacher who become lovers despite their fear of being caught and castigated; eventually, their "illegal" love is uncovered by the police.
The development of Sizwe Banzi Is Dead began with an image of a black man in a new suit, seated and smiling, that Fugard saw in a photographer's store. Speculation about why the man was smiling led to a story about the passbook that blacks had to carry around with them under the apartheid system. Before Sizwe Banzi can get his passbook in order, he must symbolically die by trading his identity for another. The play was performed "underground" until, as Fugard told Richards, it "had played in London and New York" and earned a reputation that "protected" its writers and cast. In 1974, Kani won a Tony Award for his New York performance in Sizwe Banzi Is Dead.
Fugard unveiled A Lesson from Aloes in 1978. Like his other works, this play demonstrates the extent to which apartheid effects everyone in South African society. Piet, a Dutch Afrikaner living in Port Elizabeth in 1963, tends his collection of hardy, bitter aloe plants and joins a group of political activists. When the group's bus boycott is disrupted by the police and Piet's only friend Steve is found to have mixed blood and sent away, Piet is blamed. Even Piet's wife, whose diaries have been read by the police, believes he betrayed Steve.
Instead of defending himself, Piet isolates himself in his quiet aloe garden, and even the audience is unsure of his innocence. At the same time, Gladys, his wife, laments the violation of her diaries and goes insane. Fugard explained that he wanted to demonstrate the "complexity" of the Afrikaner in A Lesson from Aloes. He told Richards in his Paris Review interview, "[we will] never understand how we landed in the present situation or what's going to come out of it" if we "simply dispose of the Afrikaner as the villain in the South African situation."
"Master Harold"… and the Boys communicates similar notions. Hallie, whose childhood parallels Fugard's, is troubled by his father's thoughtless and unthinking attitude. Although he has a close relationship with his family's black servants, Sam and Willie, even he is not immune to the evil of apartheid; at one point in the play, the boy spits in Willie's face. Fugard tells Richards how the relationship shared by Hallie, Sam, and Willie is autobiographical, and how he really did spit in Willie's face. He felt that it was "necessary" to deal with what he'd done by writing "Master Harold"… and the Boys.
"Master Harold"… and the Boys was the second of Fugard's plays to open in the United States, where it earned critical acclaim. Despite this American success, the play provoked criticism from individuals and groups who, as Jeanne Colleran noted in Modern Drama, either asserted that characters like Sam exhibit "Uncle Tom-ism," or demanded that Fugard present his plays in South Africa instead of abroad, in "languages of the black majority." Colleran suggested that because of this criticism, "Fugard cannot write of Johannesburg or of township suffering without incurring the wrath of Black South Africans who regard him as a self-appointed and presumptuous spokesman; nor can he claim value for the position previously held by white liberals without being assailed by the more powerful and vociferous radical left…. Ironically … Fugard has been forced to practice a kind of self-censorship by those whose cause he shared."
"Master Harold"… and the Boys also received negative attention from the South African government, which claimed that it was subversive. The government proclaimed it illegal to import or distribute copies of the play. Fugard later managed to present "Master Harold"… and the Boys in Johannesburg, because the government did not forbid the play's performance.
The publication of Notebooks, 1960–1977 reinforced Fugard's growing popularity in the United States. This book provides what Pico Iyer of Time calls "the random scraps out of which Fugard fashioned his plays" and "a trail of haunting questions." Richard Eder of the Los Angeles Times Book Review asserted that, in addition to providing "the most vivid possible picture of an artist striving to shape his material even as it was detonating all around him," the Notebooks are "an illuminating, painful and beguiling record of a life lived in one of those tortured societies where everything refers back, sooner or later, to the situation that torments it."
When The Road to Mecca opened in 1984 at the Yale Repertory Theatre, American audiences were captivated by Fugard's mastery once again. Nevertheless, this play reinforced Fugard's reputation as a regional writer by reconstructing the character and life of a woman who lived in Karoo, where Fugard kept his South African home. Unable to take comfort from the Karoo community, Helen Martins isolates herself at home; there, she produces sculpture after sculpture from cement and wire. Benedict Nightingale noted in New Statesman that while Helen Martins actually committed suicide by "burning out her stomach with caustic soda," Fugard recreates her as "a docile old widow" with a beautiful life; "that paranoia, that suicide are ignored" by the playwright. The central problem in the play consists of the local pastor's attempts to get Helen to enter a home for the elderly to hide his secret love for her. As Jack Kroll observed in Newsweek, although The Road to Mecca "doesn't seem to be a political play at all," it "concerns love and freedom, and for Fugard that is the germ cell of the South African problem."
With some exceptions, The Road to Mecca was lauded by critics. While Nightingale appreciates the presentation of the Afrikaner pastor "in the round, from his own point of view as much as that from the liberal outsider," he also finds the play to be "exasperatingly uneven, as unreal and real a play as Fugard has ever yet penned." According to Colleran, The Road to Mecca was "extraordinarily well received," playing at Britain's National Theatre and on Broadway. Graham Leach asserted in Listener that The Road to Mecca is "universal" and "a major piece of theatre…. Many people here believe it may well end up being judged Fugard's finest work."
A Place with the Pigs, as Colleran recounted in Modern Drama, is a personal parable "concerning the forty years spent in a pigsty" by a "Red Army deserter." It premiered at the Yale Repertory Theatre in 1987 with Fugard in the leading role. Unlike The Road to Mecca, A Place with the Pigs did not receive critical acclaim. Colleran suggested that the play may have failed to gain positive attention because it "simply does not conform to the audience's expectations of what a work by Athol Fugard should be like." In her opinion, the "dismissal" of A Place with the Pigs is unfortunate, in part because this "parable of one segment of South African society—the white South African who is committed both to dismantling apartheid and to remaining in his homeland—it adds a new voice, an authentic one, to those clamoring to decide the future of South Africa."
My Children! My Africa! was the first of Fugard's plays to premiere in South Africa in years. According to Gray in New Theatre Quarterly, Fugard believed that "South African audiences should have this play first." Fugard ensured that many audiences were exposed to this work: After a long run at the Market Theatre in Johannesburg, My Children! My Africa! was performed for six weeks in a tour of black townships in South Africa in 1989 with Lisa Fugard, Fugard's daughter, and John Kani in starring roles.
Like "Master Harold"… and the Boys, My Children! My Africa! portrays the struggles of youths to live with or confront the division between races in South Africa. Yet, as Allen of New Statesman and Society observed, the play marks "the first time Fugard … put the struggle itself on stage." Fugard was inspired by the story of a black teacher who refused to participate in a school boycott and was later murdered in Port Elizabeth by a group that believed he was a police informer.
Playland was the first of Fugard's plays to appear after the fall of apartheid. It is set on New Year's Eve in a traveling amusement park in Karoo. Here, a black night watchman painting a bumper car and a white South African whose car has broken down meet, discuss their lives, and reveal their darkest secrets: the white man tells how he killed blacks in a border war, and the black man confesses that he killed a white man who tried to force his fiancée (who was working as the white man's servant) to have sexual intercourse with him. John Simon of New York criticized the play: "There is hardly a situation, a snatch of dialogue, an object that isn't, or doesn't become, a symbol." But, according to Edith Oliver in a New Yorker review of the play, the spell cast by the actors' performances "is rooted in Mr. Fugard's moral passion." She concluded: "I have rarely seen an audience so mesmerized, or been so mesmerized myself."
Set after Nelson Mandela's election as South Africa's new president, Valley Song portrays four "colored" characters as they prepare to face the challenges of the fu-ture. Fugard was happy to premiere Valley Song at the Market Theatre in Johannesburg. As Donald G. McNeil, Jr., of the New York Times reported, Fugard was also optimistic about the future of South Africa: "We're pulling off a political miracle here." In a World Literature Today article, Harold A. Waters stated: "Valley Song is a paean to post-apartheid."
Fugard published an autobiography in 1997, entitled Cousins: A Memoir. In it, the playwright describes his relationship to Johnnie, his cousin of Afrikaner descent, and Garth, his English cousin. Fugard considers that as different as the two men's characters may have been, each served as an important inspiration to him in his literary work. This memoir also includes some hints of autobiographical events that appear in his plays. "A readable gem of a memoir," wrote Katherine K. Koenig in Library Journal. In a Booklist review, Jack Helbig commented that Cousins is a "warmhearted memoir." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly called the book "an excellent complement to [Fugard's] plays."
Cousins was followed by a dramatic memoir, The Captain's Tiger: A Memoir for the Stage, which first appeared in Johannesburg and Pretoria. This play is concerned with the twenty-year-old writer as he travels from Africa to Japan on a steamer. During his sea journey, the young man makes an inner journey through his attempt to recount the story of his mother's life. "Athol Fugard has cooked up a rare feast for theatergoers," wrote David Sheward in Back Stage. In a Variety review, Charles Isherwood voiced conflicting sentiments about the play. "It's suffused with a tenderly evoked sympathy for [Fugard's] mother," said Isherwood, but, he continued, "it's a minor-key and ultimately rather uninvolving play." Later in the article, the critic stated: "The play feels like a piece of prose only half transformed into stage material." Robert L. Daniels called The Captain's Tiger "a sweetly autobiographical memory play" that demonstrates Fugard's "lyrical sense of storytelling." Daniels remarked in his article in Variety: "Fugard is delightfully feisty and impish" in his role as the ship's steward. The critic concluded that the co-directors (Fugard and Susan Hilferty) had directed The Captain's Tiger "with tasteful simplicity."
Sorrows and Rejoicings is yet another drama in Fugard's series of post-apartheid plays. It involves an Afrikaner poet, David Olivier, who goes into exile in England when his writings are banned in South Africa. He returns to his homeland, along with his wife, Allison, shortly before his death. As the play begins, David has already died, and his story is recounted by his wife, his "colored" mistress, and his illegitimate daughter. The ghost of David appears onstage to interact with the women in his life.
Critics greeted this play with mixed reviews. "Fugard's sparsely populated and sparely plotted tone poems are an advanced model of the most literary kind," said Sean Mitchell in a Los Angeles Times review. He also noted that the writer's words "fail to gather much steam as drama," despite the fact that they "offer enduring images of a beautiful, cruel land." Charles Isherwood called Sorrows and Rejoicings an "eloquent, moving and piercingly sad new play … which has been sensitively staged." "The play does not succeed so well as most of [Fugard's] earlier work," commented Robert L. King in North American Review. In a Variety article, Robert L. Daniels stated that Sorrows and Rejoicings is "a romantic memory play heightened by the playwright's poetic storytelling gifts." Ed Kaufman praised Fugard as "a writer-poet with power and passion." In his Hollywood Reporter review, the critic considered the play to be Fugard's "most personal statement about the political, social and moral dynamics within South Africa."
Twenty-eight years after its premiere, a revival of The Island appeared in London in 2002, featuring the original actors, Kani and Ntshona. Since the play was written and staged during the apartheid period, it might well have seemed outdated; the theater critics, however, did not find that to be the case. "The production makes the prisoners' experience seem vividly of-the-moment as well as universal in application," wrote Dominic Cavendish in Daily Telegraph. Michael Billington of the Guardian praised Fugard's "astonishing collaborative play" that is staged with "sheer theatrical intelligence."
In an interview with Simon Hattenstone, Athol Fugard considered his work in the light of post-apartheid. When apartheid first ended, Fugard thought he might become "South Africa's first literary redundancy." After further reflection, however, he considered "that the new complicated South Africa needs more vigilance than ever before." Although the country's politics have changed, Fugard finds himself faced with a challenge: "What do I do now? That is the question and I'm trying to answer that question … by way of the three post-apartheid plays I've written."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
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Bigsby, Christopher, Writers in Conversation, Pen & Inc. (Norwich, England), 2001.
Forsyth, Alison, Gadamer, History, and the Classics: Fugard, Marowitz, Berkoff, and Harrison Rewrite the Theatre, Peter Lang (New York, NY), 2002.
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Travel and Leisure, December, 1992, pp. 118-122.
Variety, May 18, 1998, Robert L. Daniels, review of The Captain's Tiger, p. 82-83; January 25, 1999, Charles Isherwood, review of The Captain's Tiger p. 84; May 14, 2001, Robert L. Daniels, review of Sorrows and Rejoicings, p. 33; March 15, 1993, p. 70; February 11, 2002, Charles Isherwood, review of Sorrows and Rejoicings, p. 49.
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