ATHOL FUGARD TELLS A STIRRING “COMING HOME”

By Bonnie Goldberg

    The sobering reality is that 5.5 million people in South Africa are afflicted with HIV/AIDS, which translates to almost one in five.  The government, instead of providing its citizens with internationally approved antiretroviral drugs, is promoting a diet of garlic, olive oil and lemon juice as an effective cure.  Playwright Athol Fugard, long the voice of the South Africans in world theater, is once again going back to the soil of his roots and telling a story of courage, family and hope.

    The world premiere of “Coming Home” will grace the Long Wharf Mainstage in New Haven until Sunday, February 8 and its voice will resonate long afterward.  The legendary playwright was in the city last weekend to see his latest work, inspire the  actors and speak to audiences about a changing America with the inauguration of President Barack Obama, stating “ I can’t help but feeling for America that it is the best of times because of what is going to happen.”

    In his native South Africa, despite the great strides against apartheid, it is in many ways the worst of times and Fugard is sending a message to the government to take note and take action against the epidemic that is HIV/AIDS.  In his simple story of a young woman Veronica Jonkers, beautifully captured by Roslyn Ruff, we discover a dreamer who is willing to risk everything .  Veronica, who has been blessed with a magical singing voice, is no longer satisfied to sing at church and school socials and yearns to abandon her humble home in Niew Bethesda and her grandfather Oupa (Lou Ferguson) and venture to Capetown.

    At the play’s beginning, Veronica, with her young son Mannetjie (Namumba Santos), has returned to Oupa’s home, soon after his death, burdened with a terrible secret and an ambitious plan.  Her dream to sing may be in tatters but her courage and resolve are still strong and she will turn to her childhood friend Alfred, wonderfully played by Colman Domingo, to ensure her son’s future.  Mel Eichler plays her son as an older school boy engagingly.  Gordon Edelstein does a masterful job directing a play that will speak to your heart.

    For tickets ($32-62), call Long Wharf Theatre, 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven at 203-787-4282 or online at www.longwharf.org. ; Performances are Tuesday at 7 p.m., Wednesday at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., Thursday and Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.

    A symposium of medical experts and artists will discuss “The big disease with the little name:   South Africa, AIDS and the healing power of stories”  following the Sunday, February 1 matinee.  Audiences are encouraged to bring non-perishable food donations throughout the play’s run for the New Haven Food Pantry.

    Discover how the planting of pumpkin seeds by Oupa, his “little miracles,” translates to his grandson in a most amazing and promising way.

This will appear in the Middletown Press on February 5.

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