South African playwright Athol Fugard has written over 30 plays in his long and storied career. Most of his work dealt with the effects of Apartheid, the separation of the races as practiced in South Africa until 1994. His plays were not epics about the struggle for equality. Instead, they were intimate works about how the policy and politics affected both whites and blacks and their inter-tangled relationships in the large nation. His plays mostly consisted of small casts and he often directed and sometimes acted in them, both in South Africa and in the United States. The first play he wrote after the abolishment of Apartheid, 1995’s Valley Song, is being given a stellar revival at International City Theatre in Long Beach.
ICT’s production, under the insightful and delicate direction of caryn desai, consists of two actors playing three roles. Michael A. Shepperd and Belle Guillory are a finely matched, perfectly in sync dynamic duo. Shepperd effortlessly does double duty as The Author (Fugard himself), who acts as Narrator, and Abraam Jonkers, a coloured tenant farmer on a large farm in a tiny village in the Karoo. His little plot of land is all he has known for his 80-plus years. He loves his land and does not like change in his life, although he knows it might be better. His granddaughter Veronica (Guillory) welcomes the new order, open to the possibilities it holds for her. She sings, in the church choir, and for herself, often making up songs about the simple things in her daily life. She dreams of going to Johannesburg and having a singing career. Her grandfather only sees her as housekeeper for the new white owner of the farm. Their differences are the meat of the play as their love for each other battles their hopes and fears. It is a simple story of lives lived and hopes dreamed.
The spare set, lights, props, costumes are there but it is Fugard’s words and the superb acting by Shepperd and Guillory that carries this 90-minute heart thumping, tear inducing, feel good work. The actors are more than capable of holding your attention and plucking your heartstrings. desai’s sure directorial touch makes sure of that.