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Regional Reviews by Fred Sokol

Have You Seen Us?
Long Wharf Theatre

A Christmas Carol
Sam Waterston and  Liza Colon-Zayas
Athol Fugard, the South African writer, returns to Long Wharf Theatre with his most moving effort in years—a piercing, poignant drama, Have You Seen Us?, which continues in New Haven through December 20th. Arresting and intimate, this world premiere is the first of the esteemed playwright's works to be situated in the United States. Sit, if you are able, close to the stage which affords proximity to the action on three sides. Should you be familiar with Fugard's texture and purpose, Have You Seen Us? will remind you that he mixes emotion with impact as few others can or could.

The contemporary locale is a strip mall coffee shop somewhere near San Diego. On Christmas Eve, Henry Parsons (Sam Waterston in perfect form) engages with Adela (equally impressive Liza Colon-Zayas) who is the one-woman staff at the little eatery. Waterston plays Henry (down on his luck, recovering from alcoholism) with consummate understanding. He once taught medieval literature but now he is, simply, nowhere. Adela, with the sweet singing voice, is Mexican and oppositional. Yet, these two find common ground amid their differences.

A quite elderly Jewish couple, holding hands, enters. Solly (Sol Frieder) speaks directly and with feeling while his wife Rachel (Elaine Kussack) never utters a word. Yet, through her facial expression and, especially, her eyes, she says a great deal. Ultimately, Solly, through Frieder's well-timed delivery, brings comedy to this gem of a play.

Henry has alienated both his former wife and their daughter. Opinionated and bull-headed, it is no wonder that his only remaining friend is—Adela. He insults her and she belittles him since he cannot speak Spanish. But she knows what he wants: a turkey sandwich and someone who will both listen to and argue with him.

Sol hopes Adela has some chicken soup—that is all. When Solly and Rachel sit at a table, there isn't any way Solly could have anticipated Henry's reaction to their presence.

Have You Seen Us? runs for just eight-five minutes (without intermission) but it is not a small play. The title refers to a card Henry carries indicating missing people ... . The performance is richly layered with ethical/moral implication: quintessential Fugard

Waterston never rushes the character and thus catches every nuance written into the role. Colon-Zayas is radiant, lovely, outspoken—and caring.

Gordon Edelstein, directing, allows the play to gradually unfold and actualize both its import and charm. It begins and ends, the arc coming full circle, with Waterston as Henry, speaking to all—those he faces and those to either side of him—in the audience.

Until now, Fugard's more recent plays have worked well but, perhaps, lacked some of the elegance, drive and conscience of such earlier works as Master Harold and the Boys and The Road to Mecca. The current play is among his finest. Waterston is known to many as District Attorney Jack McCoy on television's "Law & Order." Some of his foremost work, though, has been on stage. He was splendid in, for example, A Walk in the Woods. He was nominated for the Oscar for Best Actor for the feature film The Killing Fields.

Eugene Lee's set could not be more suitable: even while watching, one feels the confines of this sandwich place: a few tables, the chalkboard with the day's specials .. .

Have You Seen Us? continues at Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven through December 20th. For tickets, call (203) 787-4284 or visit www.longwharf.org.


Also see the current theatre schedule for Connecticut & Beyond

- Fred Sokol



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