Presenting a play about Apartheid may seem like an odd choice for a theater today, but acclaimed playwright Athol Fugard’s My Children! My Africa! presents a stark portrait of a world ravaged by its oppression. It is still just as thought-provoking today as it was when it first premiered.
Set in 1985 South Africa at the dawn of a movement against the government’s policies, the drama tells the story of a teacher and two students that he mentors. It begins with a debate, where a British school is invited to debate an African school, and the three develop a bond built on mutual respect. But Thami’s attitude about school is changing as he learns more about his society’s oppression. His loyalty to his teacher and new friend will be tested as he gets deeper into the movement for freedom.
Consisting of just three characters, the ensemble cast includes Rob Cleveland as the wise mentor and teacher Anela Myalatya along with Maria Rodriguez-Sager as Isabel Dyson and Dane Troy as Thami Mbikwana. Cleveland’s Mr. M has a genuine quality that makes you feel empathy for him.
Troy gives a riveting performance as Thami. His scenes interacting with Rodriguez-Sager as Isabel are engrossing to watch. Rodriguez-Sager, however, does not fare as well in her role. Her actions playing a high school student feel forced. While she is ultimately unbelievable as the character, one thing that does shine through is a genuine passion for change, which inspires hope.
The drama presents an excellent character study and would elicit deep discussions about loyalty, fear, anger and racism, but as a stage production, at times it moves slowly, especially during the first act. The long soliloquies by each of the actors fall flat. The second act, however, contains much of the stronger action of the play and moves quicker and is more engaging.
Siauyee Ho has designed a simple, yet profound set that speaks volumes about the little classroom and the poverty surrounding it. Likewise, the lighting design by Christopher P. Kettrey aids the story telling by helping to set the tone for the scenes.
Directed by Gary Yates, My Children! My Africa! runs through November 2, 2014 at downtown’s Theatrical Outfit. For tickets and more information, please visit the theater’s website. The show’s runtime is two and half hours with an intermission.
– Kenny Norton