Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
As with his earlier play The Road to Mecca, Fugard uses the work of an "outsider artist" as a window into the experiences of South Africans during and after apartheid. While he borrows the name of the actual artist, Nukain Mabuza, his treatment of the characters is fictional.
Director Thomas W. Jones II has brought his sensitivity and all-encompassing theatrical vision to a play that sums up entire lives and societies through the experiences of a few individuals. In the first act, set in 1981, Nukain (Doug Brown) works to tell his life story in painted images on the last unpainted rock in his section of the Vredewater farm, assisted by a young boy called Bokkie (Jeremiah Hasty). When the farm's co-owner, Elmarie Kleynhans (Marni Penning), visits, the racial divisions are clear, as is the lack of understanding between black and white. The second act returns to Nukain's now decrepit "garden of painted rocks" in 2003, as Elmarie worries about attacks by black men on white settlers and finds the grown-up Bokkie, now called Jonathan (Jeremy Keith Hunter), trespassing on her land.
Brown gives a deeply moving performance as a laborer who, faced with the indignities of being treated as a second-class citizen, has created beauty and self-expression in the margins of society, and Hasty is a refreshingly natural, unmannered young actor. Their interplay shimmers as Nukain pours out the lessons of his life and Bokkie absorbs them. Hunter excels in showing how Jonathan used his mentor's lessons to survive the upheaval around him. Penning, last seen at MetroStage as a totally convincing Roy Cohn in Are You Now, or Have You Ever Been, ably shows how the easy condescension of the first act gives way to the armed anxiety of the second, and how people are never too old to learn.
Patrick W. Lord's set and projection design present the South African landscape as another character. The hard, orange-streaked ground and the rocks painted with abstract geometric designs are backed by a screen that shows images of both serenity (waving plant stalks) and political unrest, all under Alexander Keen's hot lighting design.
The Painted Rocks at Revolver Creek