If you ask me…
- Tom Holehan
NEW FUGARD PLAY PREMIERES AT LONG WHARF
Any new play by Athol Fugard, one of our great contemporary playwrights, can usually qualify as “event theatre”. Last season, the Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven presented one of the playwright’s recent and, as it turned out, most memorable new plays with “Coming Home”. Now a new work from the South African writer, “Have You Seen Us?”, is having its world premiere at Long Wharf. While far from classic Fugard and not nearly up to the standard set by “Coming Home” (not to mention his “Master Harold…and the Boys”, “The Road to Mecca”, etc.), there’s still enough quality in evidence here to warrant a trip to New Haven.
“Have You Seen Us?” is a memory play of sorts narrated by Henry Parsons (Sam Waterston), a South African college professor, whose sole joy in life seems to be his daily sandwich at the modest southern California diner he frequents. It is there that Henry matches wits and trades insults with Adela (Liza Colon-Zayas), the Mexican waitress who gives as good as she gets. Henry’s opening monologue, which goes on for an extended period of time, tells us of an incident that occurred outside the diner one night when he made an off-hand greeting to an elderly Jewish couple. This, we are told, significantly changed his life and for the next 80 minutes (with no intermission) we are witness to that event and its repercussions.
Alas, the build-up of “Have You Seen Us?” eventually promises much more than it delivers. Fugard re-visits familiar themes of loneliness, self-discovery and prejudice, but this time they seem forced and preachy. Since over half the play is devoted to the cantankerous relationship between Henry and Adela, however, it is fortunate that Mr. Waterston and Ms. Colon-Zayas are such game players. There is not a false note in their performances and Waterston, in particular, is quite moving as a lonely, divorced man wrestling personal demons and living a life of quiet despair.
Under Gordon Edelstein’s careful direction, the play unfolds gracefully but ultimately with little punch. Eugene Lee’s lived-in diner looks exactly right with its mismatched chairs and stained walls while credit must also be given to dialect coach Stephen Gabis who, undoubtedly, was a fine instructor to Mr. Waterston. All told, this remains less than vintage Fugard, but any chance to take in the latest play from a master is time well spent.
“Have You Seen Us” continues at the Long Wharf Theatre through December 20th. For further information and ticket reservations call the box office at 203.787.4282 or visit their website at: www.longwharf.org.
Tom Holehan is Co-chairman of the Connecticut Critics Circle and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: email@example.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.
This review appeared in Elm City Newspapers beginning on 12.9.09.