Fugard, Waterston and Edelstein combine in a mysterious memoir that fascinates and puzzles on a rainy Xmas Eve.
By Roz Friedman
What an exciting experience in theater! Athol Fugard’s plays, first performed in the 1960’s thru the 90’s at Long Wharf and the Yale Rep about Apartheid and all the terror it implied, had a profound and positive impact on world affairs; he is back on the boards with a new work and he was at the opening. This time, he locates his play, “Have You Seen Us?” in a strip mall in Southern California, seemingly far from his homeland. But, although he now lives in San Diego, he can never leave the memories of South Africa behind.
In his book entitled, “Notebooks,” he says, “in the theatre….my fascination lies with the living moment.” He is not there to “amuse the audience—but to enlighten or instruct or to increase their awareness.” Certainly he accomplishes these goals over one hour and twenty minutes in a very compelling personal exploration, directed with quiet skill by Gordon Edelestein. In a dazzling performance akin to a one-man show, Sam Waterston is the prickly, bitter, middle-aged Henry Parsons; standing in front of a shabby sandwich shop (designed by Eugene Lee, lit by Stephen Strawbridge, costumes by Jennifer Von Mayrhauser), he delivers a long monologue, accent in tact, recalling and comparing to a game of dominoes, some things that happened two years before that changed his life. During that time, he freely boasts, without apology, that his greatest pleasure was sharing insults with Adela, the Mexican woman who worked there. Furthermore, in their duels, she always bested him.
The playwright has often used conflict and tension between two people to make his points. Here, as in “Hello and Goodbye” and “Boesman and Lena,” Henry, (who eats only a turkey sandwich on whole wheat with Sprouts and tomatoes,) and Adela, played with gracious strength by Liza Colon-Zayas, jab at each other, cruelly, and while they are doing so we learn about their lives. Originally from South Africa, divorced and the father of one daughter, Henry, a teacher of “dead languages,” has lived in the states for 15 years. He lost his family because, he confesses, he is an alcoholic.( As was Fugard) Adela, spurred on by a bookmark Henry uses, featuring the photos of missing persons, describes her proud grandmother who was a Soldadares, a fighter with Zapata, the revolutionary, and the life of a contemporary abused Mexican woman who receives no justice in this country. But when they charmingly share music—her song and his---it brings them closer together.
Meanwhile, an elderly couple, Solly and Rachel, make their way in the darkness. Henry is enraged when the gentleman responds to his “Merry Xmas” by saying thank you, but we are Jewish. Later, Henry admits that he has been shaped by his country’s attitude to being anti-Semitic. In a very touching moment, he asks Solly’s forgiveness and it is accepted. While Sol Frieder and Elaine Kussack are as precise as they can be in the parts given to them, we are never sure what transforms Henry’s mind and heart.
“Have You Seen Us?” will play through Dec 20 at Long Wharf Theatre.
This review originally aired on WMNR 88.1FM FINE ARTS PUBLIC RADIO