This latest work by Athol Fugard, The Painted Rocks at Revolver Creek, is a masterpiece on so many levels. Set in two distinct times, it explores the oppressive impact of apartheid in South Africa and then turns its lens on 20 years later to witness the personal cost and price of “Reconciliation.” Trying to make peace is never tidy or easy, and thanks to Fugard’s gifted language and characters, we get a chance to feel our way through this tumultuous time of change, of which the devasting impact is still being felt.
The magnificent Doug Brown plays the artist Nukain, who after years of neglect wandering and living in squalor, has been taken in by an Afrikaner family, Mrs. Kleynhans represented by the amazing Marni Penning. She appreciates him painting rocks like gardens, and buys his paints and gives him meager provisions for his farmhand work. The first act sets up the tender relationship between the artist and a youngster, Bokkie, played by the wonderful Jeremiah Hasty. Fugard never explains or shares how that relationship came to be, if they are blood related or the whereabout of the parents. Judging from the austere conditions of the country and the artist’s own horrific journey, as he cheerfully pulls the wagon full of paints to assist his beloved “Tata” that the child has been saved from abandonment.
The Painted Rocks at Revolver Creek
closes September 30, 2018
Details and tickets
It’s through their interaction that we get a glimpse of the role of art and artistry in Nukain’s life and marvel at his handiwork scattered on stage and in the immense fields that Bokkie looks out upon as he climbs “The Big One” that Nukain has resisted painting. He has a special connection with this last slab that represents his final passage, and he enlists Bokkie to paint the eyes to “tell his story” and somehow, be “seen.” As the two revel in this massive representation of the artist’s life passage and dignity, Mrs. Kleynhans enters with her own ideas and the energy and dynamics suddenly shift. The scene ends in painful degradation and humiliation that remains in Bokkie’s heart for years, as manifested in the second act when he returns grown up and accomplished, claiming his life, his own dignity and his name.
Thomas W. Jones II directs with energy and excitement. His handiwork is especially apparent in the explosive moments whether they are interior and reactionary or shouted in full decibel. The point-counterpoint between the older Mrs. Kleynhans and a grown-up Bokkie or Jonathan Sejake played by the remarkable Jeremy Keith Hunter is a feast to be cherished. Assuming he’s a trespasser, she has him in her sites at the end of a double barrel shotgun and barely drops her guard even when she slowly realizes who he is. Reconciliation has upended her world so much that any black person is a threat of imminent danger, even the youngster she cared for those many years ago.
There is plenty of hurt, blame, catastrophe and anger to go around and Hunter and Penning are a perfect match to hurl the language and seething emotional passages. They were fellow cast members in the piercingly wonderful Hooded or Being Black for Dummies and their trust, timing and reactions with each other are impeccable.
[adsanity_rotating align=”alignnone” time=”10″ group_id=”1455″ /]
Lighting by Alexander Keen is luscious in representing the flow of the emotions that cascade in tidal waves throughout the piece. The set by Patrick W. Lord positions the massive “Big One,” centerstage that also serves as a screen for the incredible projections that he also designed. The artwork of Nancy Bundy who did the painted rocks isoutstanding. Then of course, there’s the mood-altering sound design by Gordon Nimmo-Smith with syncopated drumbeats opening the show and rhythmic chorus throughout.
No one captures the strength and tenacity of the human spirit like Fugard. The timing for this work is especially poignant with the current media attention on the plight of South African farmers, with unfortunate incidents stoked to heighten the divisiveness. The words of Fugard shed light on the human story behind the torn headlines. One of his many gifts is being able to sear into the soul and reveal the pulsating goodness within, often cloaked in fear, that unfortunately manifests as hatred. In Painted Rocks, characters eventually allow themselves to actually listen to each other. This small first step seems insignificant at first, but like the tiny dots and lines on myriad rocks, it’s a beginning.
We are so fortunate to witness this latest work with MetroStage which opened in 1987 with Fugard’s Blood Knot; others followed throughout the years. Yet again, MetroStage has set the stage for a soul-stirring theatrical experience packed with integrity, spirit, and talent galore.
The Painted Rocks at Revolver Creek by Athol Fugard . Director: Thomas W. Jones II . Cast: Doug Brown; Jeremiah Hasty; Marni Penning; Jeremy Keith Hunter . Set and Projection Design: Patrick W. Lord . Light Designers: Alexander Keen . Sound Design: Gordon Nimmo-Smith . Costume Design: Michael Sharp . Scenic Artist (including stones painting): Nancy Bundy . Dialect Coach: Annette van Blommestein and Marieta Ekspen . Production Stage Manager: Michael Sharp . Assistant Stage Manager: LJ Moses . Produced by MetroStage . Reviewed by Debbie Minter Jackson.