Carey Perloff’s The Colossus Of Rhodes
American Conservatory Theatre is currently presenting the west coast premiere of Carey Perloff’s The Colossus of Rhodes at the Zeum Theatre. The biographical drama was a 2001 finalist for the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize and was first produced at the Lucille Lortel White Barn Theatre in Westport, Connecticut. Earlier this year, the script was selected by the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center for further development at its 2002 O’Neill Playwrights Conference. This was the new version of the drama that is being staged at the Zeum Theatre for the first time anywhere. Ms. Perloff is directing her own play.
Colossus is the story of Cecil Rhodes (Allyn Burrows), who was a financier, statesman and England’s pioneer African imperialist. Rhodes and a group of displaced young Englishmen in the late 19th century conquered the diamond industry in South Africa. In his quest for power and riches, Rhodes enlarged the British territory in Africa.
It is always difficult to bring a full life biography to the stage and many playwrights have not succeeded in that feat. However, Ms. Perloff has been able to present the highlights of Rhodes' life in Africa successfully. There are two stories presented in this 2 hour and half presentation with intermission. First, there is a love story about the great passion between Rhodes (who thinks only of material gains and the organization of the DeBeers Consolidate Mines, Ltd.) and Randall Pickering (David Adkins), who dreams of a greater British ruled Africa. Randall is a sensitive man who is disgusted by the way the natives are being treated in the diamond mines.
There is a second plotline running in the drama which involves the ill-fated romance between Barney Barnato (Paul Vincent Black), an East End Jewish vaudevillian who was been relocated to a piano bar in Kimberly, and a young African woman named Fanny Bees (Kathleen Antonia). Barnado becomes Rhodes’ competitor in the diamond mining business. Charles Rudd (Rufus Collins) is a Cambridge man who becomes Rhodes’ first business partner. Dr. Jameson, John Ruskin and Anderson are all played by Robert Parsons. The cast is completed by two silent blacks representing the African natives (David Stewart Hudson and Sidney Burrows. Jr). Carey Perloff says the play is “loosely based on real people who, for better or for worse, changed the face of a continent.”
Colossus of Rhodes is part history, part romance and part vaudeville song and dance with a Brechtian influence. The songs, written by Catherine Reid with lyrics by Ms. Perloff, are very effective and they move the story along. The simple, multilevel set by Hisham Ali is exceptionally lit by Nancy Schertler. The whole drama is very skillfully staged, mostly as individual scenes that flow smoothly into each segment of the capitalist's life.
The actors are outstanding in their characterizations of historical figures, shown in a human light with their faults, such as the shady business dealings of Cecil Rhodes and his passion for Randall the idealist. New York actor Allyn Burrows (Killer Joe) is excellent as Cecil Rhodes. He is convincing as the fascinatingly conflicted capitalist. David Adkins, his exact opposite, is outstanding as the sensitive cultured man drawn to Africa for adventure. Paul Vincent Black is enjoyable as Barnato the song and dance man with a good cockney accent. Kathleen Antonia also gives a good performance as the African lady. Robert Parsons handles the multiple roles with his usual professionalism.
I found Colossus an stimulating new play; Ms. Perloff's ear for dialogue is impressive. The drama runs thru February 1 at the Zeum Theatre at Yerba Buena Gardens, (Fourth and Howard), San Francisco. For tickets call 415-749-2228 or visit www.act-sf.org.