Exits and Entrances
Also see Sharon's review of 110 in the Shade
And the choice appears to have been the correct one, because Exits and Entrances is a small play, brilliantly served by both the intimate house itself and the talents of the Los Angeles theatre community. From Kathi O'Donohue's evocative lighting to David B. Marling's realistic sound design and, perhaps most important, the detailed direction of Stephen Sachs (co-artistic director of the Fountain), Exits and Entrances is given a stirring production that simply could not exist at a larger house.
Fugard's somewhat autobiographical script recounts the 1956 meeting between a young, idealistic South African playwright (unnamed, but clearly Fugard) and Andre Huguenet, who was, at one time, the foremost Afrikaans actor in the country. In 1956, when Huguenet's career was on the decline, he celebrated his thirtieth year on the stage with a production of Oedipus Rex. In the absence of other actors to fill out the cast, Huguenet surrounded himself with amateurs, including the young playwright.
In addition to being cast in the role of the shepherd, the playwright also served as Huguenet's dresser, and the great bulk of Exits and Entrances takes place in Huguenet's dressing room, before a performance, as the playwright prepares Huguenet to take the stage.
In Huguenet, Fugard has written a true tour de force role, and Morlan Higgins makes the most of it. Whether he is putting on makeup, running through his lines, having a prima donna moment, or kindly sharing a word about his life in the theatre with the playwright who clearly idealizes him, Higgins is mesmerizing. (Indeed, perhaps the greatest feature of William Dennis Hurley's performance as the playwright is his ability to disappear even though he's still on stage.) In its short 80-minute running time, Exits and Entrances gives an actor the opportunity to play Sophocles and Shakespeare as well as Fugard, and Higgins doesn't waste it. While running lines in preparation to take the stage as Oedipus, Huguenet slides into character, giving a taste of a powerful, chill-inducing performance. But Higgins also plays the moments Fugard has written, making a speech about where an actor's "home" is truly poignant even though we all know the place he is going to name.
For the bulk of the play, Fugard's focus is on Huguenet, not the playwright. But Hurley does a nice job with what little Fugard gives him. The playwright - perhaps because he is a playwright - is extremely perceptive, and he instinctively knows when to baby the temperamental Huguenet and when to challenge him. And he comes into his own in the latter part of the play when, five years after Oedipus, the playwright comes across a much changed Huguenet in another theatre. The intervening five years have changed both men, and the playwright (still as perceptive as ever) now has the strength to challenge Huguenet on his beliefs about the purpose of theatre and the future of theatre in South Africa.
The script of Exits and Entrances ultimately proves that it wasn't false modesty for Fugard to write the playwright as having an acute and incisive mind. Fugard has written a portrait of an actor in decline - a towering, arrogant persona initially in denial of his increasing weaknesses, but ultimately accepting of them. It is, at times, almost painful to watch, but wonderful to behold.
Exits and Entrances continues at the Fountain Theatre through July 25, 2004. For information, click: www.fountaintheatre.com.
The Fountain Theatre presents Exits and Entrances by Athol Fugard. Produced by Simon Levy. Set Design David Potts; Lighting Design Kathi O'Donohue; Costume Design Shon Le Blanc; Sound Design David B. Marling; Make-Up Designer Hilla Peer; Prop Design Goar Galstyan; Production Stage Manager Casey Dacanay; Dialect Coach Larry Moss; Assistant Literary Manager Patrick Varon; Directed by Stephen Sachs.