Monday, June 4, 2018

Review of "A Lesson From Aloes"

There are a number of important themes revolving around apartheid in South Africa during the early 1960’s in Athol Fugard’s  A Lesson From Aloes, playing at Hartford Stage through June 10th.  While the production can, at times, be provocative and intriguing, most scenes seem overlong when trying to make their central points.
Randall Newsome and Andrus Nichols in "A Lesson From Aloes."
The plot revolves around Piet (Randall Newsome) and his seemingly ailing wife Gladys (Andrus Nichols).  We slowly learn the husband has been heavily associated with the anti-government resistance movement, which seeks rights for Black South Africans.  His involvement has caused discord and consternation between him and Gladys.  This friction is only heightened as they await the arrival of Steve (Ariyon Bakare), the leader of the resistance, and his family for a reunion/reconciliation dinner.  His arrival sparks simmering hostilities, unspoken allegations and truths about their relationship and motives behind their protracted, deep-rooted crusade.

Playwright Athol Fugard has explored the state of apartheid in his native country in numerous plays.   Here, he takes an inordinate amount of time teasing out his ideas.  This has the effect of diluting the messages he is striving to make which, overall, are potent and unsettling.  He uses the metaphor of the aloe plant as a way to convey survival in the harsh environment of South Africa in the early 1960’s.  While apt, the imagery is somewhat overplayed.
Randall Newsome, Andrus Nichols, and Ariyon Bakare  in "A Lesson From Aloes."
The three-person cast brings different styles and strengths to the show.  Randall Newsome, with an authentic sounding Afrikaner accent, is introspective with a quiet resolve that belies powerful convictions.    Andrus Nichols’ Gladys is a complex and mysterious individual.  The actress conveys a painful and tormented life that adds unexpected contours to the landscape of the show.  Ariyon Bakare’s Steve is a mix of passions and emotions.  He is the heart and soul of the play, joyous one moment, rebellious and angry the next.  His skepticism and cynicism speak volumes about the plight of South Africans during this time period.
Randall Newsome, Ariyon Bakare, and Andrus Nichols in "A Lesson From Aloes."   
Director Darko Tresnjak has imposed a naturalistic feel to the production that is at times stark and welcoming. He utilizes subtlety and introspection for his staging of the play, which requires attentiveness and patience from the audience.  He adroitly and sporadically interjects controlled outbursts from the quietude and meanderings of the actors that enhance the dramatic impact of the show.    

A Lesson From Aloes, a haunting and earnest production, at Hartford Stage through June 10th.

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