The City Theatre is currently presenting Athol Fugard's most recent play, Sorrows and Rejoicings on their mainstage. The play debuted at McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton in May of 2001 (directed by Fugard), then moved on to productions in Cape Town, New York City, and London. Set in a home in Karoo, South Africa, in 1999, the play shows Dawid Olivier's widow, his mistress and his daughter as they deal with his recent death and the personal, political, and racial conflicts during South Africa's movement from apartheid to postapartheid.
Afrikaner poet Dawid Olivier wrote passionately and without subtlety about the country of his heart. Dawid had a white wife, Allison, and an African lover, the Olivier's house servent Marta Berends. Before he was exiled to London, he fathered a daughter Rebecca by Marta, though he barely got to know the child before he left. After spending 17 years in exile, Dawid returned to Karoo to die. Except for a few flashbacks in which Dawid appears, the play is a real-time reunion of Allison, Marta, and Rebecca in one room of the Olivier's Karoo home.
Each of the women is dealing with her own grief: Allison in grief over a failed marriage and the fact that she and Dawid never really connected; Marta in grief over the emptiness she feels at the loss of Dawid (for herself and for South Africa); and Rebecca in grief from never knowing her father, and never beng able to express to him the resentment she felt from the heritage he provided her. Throughout the one act play, Allison and Marta are almost always only a few feet from each other and Rebecca is hovering in the doorway, but each is consumed by her own situation.
This is a tense, serious play with repressed emotion cracking in the air - the ninety minute experience is just enough to have impact, but any more and I believe a depressing headache would have set in. Nearly every phrase uttered is a metaphor for another level of emotion. Fine performances are delivered by all three actresses. Helena Ruoti as Allison is stoic and cold; she loved Dawid and his writing, but without sharing his passions, did she really know and understand him? Kelly Taffe plays Marta as a single-minded woman totally given to loving, indeed near worshipping, Dawid. While Dawid was in exile, she kept his home unchanged, obsessively polishing the wooden table on which he wrote, and where they shared their first physical encounter. CMU student Rebecca Utt plays Rebecca as a ball of rage, with a resentment that is barely contained (but always visible) during her nearly 75 minute silent vigil at the threshold of the room that holds too many memories.
Conan McCarty well exhibits the healthy Dawid as well as the man on the brink of death, but it's not totally convincing that he should generate such extreme devotion from these two strong women.
Sorrows and Rejoicings continues at City through February 16. Director: Timothy Douglas. Sets: Tony Ferrieri. Costumes: Cletus Anderson. Sound: Elizabeth Atkinson. Lighting: Thom Weaver. Tuesdays - Fridays at 8:00pm; Saturdays at 5:30 and 9:00pm; Sundays at 2:00pm (plus 7:00pmon February 2). Tickets are $25 to $35; age 25 and younger, $10. Call 412-431-CITY or visit www.citytheatrecompany.org.