South African playwright Athol Fugard's plays have dealt with the havoc wrought in his country by apartheid, but his more recent works also often possess the feel of a ghost story, as they grow to encompass the guilt and grief that were the legacy of his homeland's decades of racial inequity. This is particularly true in his powerful new play, in which the spirits of the forgotten dead are all around us, unseen. As he drives his locomotive through the black shantytown area of the city, Roelf (Morlan Higgins) accidentally runs over a mother and infant, after the mother commits suicide by stepping onto the tracks before Roelf can stop. There's nothing the train driver could have done to save them, but he is consumed with guilt over his role in the death. At the graveyard where indigent, unidentified bodies are buried, Roelf searches for the dead mother's grave so he can expiate his guilt. Elderly, impoverished grave digger Simon (Adolphus Ward) is sympathetic, but also desperate to send Roelf home, before the white driver's presence in the black region of the country causes disaster. Although Fugard's plot is narratively smaller than what is found in many of his other plays, the overall mood of sorrow and resigned, barely controlled rage at how the universe is arranged is powerfully palpable. A deep-seated, thought-provoking pessimism about men's nature is constantly evident. Director Stephen Sachs' character-driven production is stunning, from the dusty squalor of Jeff McLaughlin's desolate, gravel-covered shanty set to the dense, evocative acting work. Higgins' mingled rage and sorrow anger over being forced to kill someone he didn't know, along with his grief over the pair's death is powerful, but it's Ward's slightly ironic, underplayed turn as the grave digger that captures attention every moment he's onstage. Fugard has written that the play is a metaphor for the moral blindness of an overclass that has ignored the plight of the hopeless but the play cunningly concludes with a tragic coda suggesting that, to the underclass, even white guilt is a luxury that harms more than it heals. Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., Hlywd. Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Dec. 12. (323) 663-1525.
Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m.; Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Starts: Oct. 16. Continues through Jan. 30, 2010