Monday, February 01, 2010

'making elemental emotions real'

"Winston: Why am I here?"
- The Island

Friday evening I saw a performance of The Island by Athol Fugard, John Kani and Winston Ntshona at Remy BumppoTheatre. This play was originally produced in July, 1973 with Kani and Ntshona in the roles of John and Winston. The production at Remy Bumppo directed by James Bohnen was outstanding. This is a short but exceptionally moving play about two prisoners on The Island. The production featured La Shawn Banks as John and Kamal Angelo Bolden as Winston. Their daily routine demonstrated the Sisyphean existence that they led as prisoners on the Island (based on the very real Robben Island prison near Cape Town). During the play they are preparing a performance of Antigone for an annual prison concert. The confrontation between Creon and Antigone becomes a metaphor for life in the prison and provides meaning for their lives just as it has had meaning for western civilization for more than two thousand years. The play is under girded by the prisoners' raw physical anguish as they prepare for the performance. This begins with the prisoners miming the interminable dumping of mounds of sand back and forth at the opening of the play. George Steiner noted the parody of Antigone's entombment of her brother. He comments:

Beyond the blank desolation of the close of Sophocles' play, there now stretches pure waste. Emptiness is not a Sophoclean or, indeed, a fifth-century Attic perception. Fugard's is the satyr play to all preceding 'Antigones'.(Antigones, George Steiner, p 144)

Added to that is the tension that develops when John finds out that his sentence has been shortened and he will be going home in three months. When Winston asks, "Why am I here?", he was speaking not just about his life on The Island, but he was speaking for us all.
The actors excelled in making elemental emotions real for the audience. The result was a riveting evening of theater - one I will not soon forget.

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