By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
“Were you sad for him at that stage?” asks co–artistic director, Simon Levy.
“That’s a nice question, let me think. I think by the time we come to the end of the Labia Theater section [in the play], he’s given the young playwright things to think about. He opened my eyes progressively in the course of that experience. Then there was that encounter five or six months later . . . There was Andr√© again giving an extraordinary performance, in The Prisoner, and we talked for a long, long time. Obviously, I’ve taken liberties, but in substance what’s in these pages [a bitter argument over the Playwright’s attempts to depict social injustices] is what happened in that meeting. The two of you [actors Morlan Higgins and William Dennis Hurley] are going to tell me what the play is about. As a playwright, you have only a vague sense of what the substance is. In my experience, the actors help me understand, so that’s it!”
Later the same day, during rehearsals, Fugard and Sachs allow me to eavesdrop on their conference. They speak in excited whispers while seated at one end of the table.
Athol Fugard: Andr√© has to be a storyteller. He must charm us in the beginning, the Albert Finney thing in The Dresser, but then there’s that moment when the cannibalistic greed of the Playwright takes over, he knows he’s got something very special. [Whispering.] It’s greed. I’ve always been greedy. It’s greed.
Stephen Sachs: He’s hungry.
Fugard: And then the progression, of course, which I’m sure you know, and then slowly the emergence of Andr√©’s performance.
Sachs: It comes in stages.
Fugard: Yes, it comes in stages. Even as Oedipus is talking. . . He’s got to spin that magic, even the blind Oedipus railing [Fugard impersonates Oedipus], and then he stops. [Silence.] The sense of that one place, and of his destiny waiting for him at that crossroads.
Sachs: I keep seeing this image of him holding out a sheet of paper . . .
Fugard: Absolutely, you’ve got to try it.
Sachs: The first scene, when they’re together in the dressing room, he’s putting on his makeup, it’s got to be very fast . . .
Fugard: Oh, yes, that’s right, absolutely, you’ve got it.
Sachs: And that last image sitting in the chair, this naked man, so he’s gone from this all the way to that.
Fugard: That’s it. That’s it. That’s it.
Sachs: Well, the Playwright is a conjurer in the play.
Sachs: While the scenes with Andr√© are happening, I see the Playwright watching, looking for a clue, but he has to be active, not an observer.
Fugard: Absolutely. The one speech I’m really proud of is the one about Andr√© being the manager of the Pigalle [Cinema] Theater, and the feeling he has of being flayed alive. It’s the stories that Andr√© tells that create the flesh and blood.
Sachs: To make that clear and vivid . . .
Fugard: That’s storytelling — taking your time.
Sachs: As in music, you have to earn the right to take your time.
Fugard: Absolutely. What I keep pointing out to actors, you’ve got to be ahead of the audience. That’s something Danny Glover taught me when I was doing Master Harold and the Boysat Yale Rep. I was convinced that Willie was underwritten, that I had not fleshed him out. Danny taught me a wonderful lesson, that his function in the play was to listen, it was the way he listened that made us listen. It’s the quality of the Playwright’s listening that has to be so active. Because he’s alert, he’s like a little animal. It’s his fascination with Andr√© that will lead into our fascination with Andr√©, watching every move, what can I learn tonight? What’s it about? What is acting about? What is theater about?
¬†After the first read-through, an opportunity to interview Fugard was superseded by Sachs’ need to discuss the play with Fugard. Fugard and I corresponded by e-mail instead, here excerpted. ¬†L.A. WEEKLY: How did your inspirations to write change when your country changed? And how did it affect your sense of purpose?
ATHOL FUGARD: I’ve slowly come to a now unwavering conviction of the social significance and relevance of theater. I write “now unwavering” because there were moments during those four decades of apartheid when I had doubts about whether writing was a significant form of action. I have battled through to a conviction that it is and that the “defiance” literature of my country — novels, poems and plays — played a decisive role in the near-miraculous changes that took place there 10 years ago. In the case of theater, I make the claim that although it reaches only a fraction of the audiences that the movies and TV command, it has an infinitely profounder affect on the matrix of a society because it digs deeper into the dreams and psyches of its audiences than any of those trashy media do.
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