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Athol Fugard has long been a cultural hero of mine, and any South African who has appreciated his story-telling abilities knows the role he’s played in spurring discussions around race and our country’s difficult past. But seeing his most recent play, The Painted Rocks at Revolver Creek, in New York City made me realize just how important his work is to be seen here too – not just to create an understanding of how Apartheid played out in a South African context, but to help this country through its own struggle in dealing with race and the need to uphold civil rights.
I’ve followed along and reported on many of the protests and uprisings around issues of race and criminal justice that have taken place in Baltimore, Ferguson and here in NYC, for Eyewitness News back at home. It’s a situation that has reached a point of urgency over and over, and anything that can help foster a discussion or help create some semblance of understanding of another person’s point of view, especially across the colour line, is a vital part of re-building past the hurt.
Fugard’s had a long and storied history with Broadway and the theatre world in New York, not least of all picking up a Lifetime Achievement Tony in 2011 for his long-standing career, when I got to sit down with him in his friend’s Hells Kitchen apartment and talk about the accolade. The South African playwright has brought on some sterling talent for this production – Sahr Ngaujah, who I had the fortune of seeing play Fela Anikulapo Kuti in the Broadway production of Fela! and Bianca Amato, an accomplished actress who moved to New York some 13 years ago. Unfortunately Sahr was hurt in a bike accident so a new actor had to be cast in the production.
It’s a story about a South African painter, based loosely on the life of Nukain Mabuza, who spent years during the late ’60s and ’70s painting vivid patterns on the rocks of the eastern province of Mpumalanga, and the influence this has on a young boy who watches him. It’s a South African story, with peculiarities specific to the country, but the issues of race and dialogue and understanding that it illuminates are important and just as valuable in a US context, especially given the growing protests over race and criminal justice. The dialogue that takes place between Ngaujah’s character and Amato’s in the second half is deeply moving.
The play has been extended for two weeks, and I highly urge you to go see it if you can. You’ll walk away a little more empathetic to the lives that share these streets with you.
The Painted Rocks at Revolver Creek is on until June 14th at the Signature Theatre.