Athol Fugard's Sorrows and Rejoicings featured a teenager standing in a doorway for the bulk of the play. In Fugard's new play, Victory, he returns to the motif - only this time, the threshold on which the girl stands is not a physical one.
The play, which takes place in a single scene played in real time, concerns a burglary. Specifically, a young black South African man, living in poverty, breaks into the home of a rich white man living in the same village, but worlds apart. Freddie, the thief, is interested in cash, but he also has a secondary motive of destroying the objects that his victim holds dear. And the main action of the play occurs when homeowner Lionel returns unexpectedly and interrupts Freddie.
Morlan Higgins plays Lionel, one of those thoughtful philosophical characters we tend to meet more in theatre than in real life. Hurt by Freddie's invasion of his home and destruction of his things, Lionel is driven to explain to Freddie the importance of the things Freddie so gleefully ruined: Lionel's books and the picture of his deceased wife. But there's something more that was taken from Lionel, something fundamental about the way he sees the world, and he must also explain this to Freddie. Even when Lionel tells Freddie that he doesn't care anymore, we can tell that he does, because he so desperately needs Freddie to understand what he's done, in order to give necessary meaning to their encounter.
Lovensky Jean-Baptiste's Freddie is an angry young man who does not perceive an awful lot of meaning in his burglary of Lionel's home - it's all about getting money, taking things he can sell and maybe bringing a little hurt home to a rich white oppressor. A man of limited education, Freddie doesn't possess the words to even explain to Lionel the hopelessness and bitterness that led him to this point.
And then there's the girl in the middle, Vicky. It was actually Vicky's idea to rob Lionel's house. Her mother had worked there as a maid, and Vicky knew (or, at least, thought she knew) where Lionel kept his cash. Vicky breaks in with Freddie, and, although she doesn't do much to search or trash the house, she laughs at their naughtiness as Freddie tosses around the books her mother had so painstakingly dusted. But when Lionel returns and the stakes are raised, Vicky is torn. She'd spent a lot of time as a child in that house, and Lionel had always been a friend. She's happy to take his things, sure, but she's adamant about not hurting him.
Tinashe Kajese's portrayal of Vicky is exceptional. An air of indecision hangs around her features, as does concern, when things start to spiral out of control. And when Freddie finally asks her to speak for him - to explain to Lionel the feelings Freddie lacks the words to express - Kajese's delivery and Higgins's reactions combine to create one of the stellar moments that are the reason we go to the theatre in the first place.
The 70-minute play, having its U.S. premiere at the Fountain, is a taut and intense piece, and director Stephen Sachs never lets the tension lag. But more than being about three characters, a break-in and a gun, Fugard's script is about the experience of South Africa today. And, even more than that, Fugard's play transcends South Africa and is easily relevant to any society in which there is a racial or class divide. What starts out as Lionel's search for understanding leaves him - and the audience - questioning whether this good man has really done enough to help the people struggling around him.
Victory runs at the Fountain Theatre through March 9, 2008. For tickets and information, see www.fountaintheatre.com.
The Fountain Theatre - Producing Artistic Director Deborah Lawlor; Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs; Producing Director Simon Levy - presents Victory. Written by Athol Fugard; Directed by Stephen Sachs. Sets & Properties Design Travis Gale Lewis; Costume Design Shon Le Blanc; Lighting Design Christian Epps; Sound Design David B. Marling; Additional Properties John Minchin; Hair & make-Up Design Judi Lewin; Dialect Coach JB Blanc; Fight Director Doug Lowry; Production Stage Manager Kerrie Blaisdell; Assistant Stage Manager James Bennett; Technical Director Scott Tuomey; Publicist Lucy Pollak.