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This review by Nicole Plett was prepared for the

May 9, 2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Review: `Sorrows and Rejoicings’

In the years since South Africa emerged from the


of white minority rule, people of good will around the globe have

watched in almost painful anticipation to see how the "New South

Africa" would fare. In "Sorrows and Rejoicings," Athol

Fugard’s latest political post-mortem, which is receiving its world

premiere at McCarter Theater, the South African playwright and


brings this painful state of suspension out of the news and into the


The play is set in 1999, on the day of the funeral of the household’s

white master, Dawid Olivier, who has recently returned from 17 years’

exile to die at home. Four characters, three living and one dead,

come together in the big room of the Afrikaner’s family home in South

Africa’s rural Karoo. Ever the storyteller, Fugard tells this tale

in real time, through a series of narrative monologues. More extreme

in its narrative path than even his autobiographical memory play,

"The Captain’s Tiger," "Sorrows and Rejoicings" is

a bold and risky experiment. The 90-minute one-act drama is more


of Greek tragedy, declaimed in a public amphitheater, than it is of

modern, whiz-bang stagecraft.

The tale the three women have to tell — one is black, one white,

and one bi-racial — at this moment in time in this room is


at times by the figure of the dead Dawid who enacts various scenes

that are being re-told. Ultimately, however, the cluster of characters

are not sufficiently interesting in word or deed to persuade us that

we care. Unlike his other recent plays, not one character here —

not even the dead poet, Dawid — has much poetry in speech or


Rather, the tales of meetings, romances, hopes, and disappointment

are told in the most mundane terms. In a story surely colored by his

own experience living in Southern California, Fugard seems undecided

about what exactly a political exile can hope to accomplish in the

modern day. Must his or her position in the world necessarily be one

of failure and remorse? Dawid’s proved to be so.

L. Scott Caldwell gives graceful play to the character

of Marta Barends, the black servant who has spent her entire life

as a member of the Olivier household. Infatuated and eventually


by "the master," she has patiently endured a 17-year vigil

awaiting his return. Her affection for this lost love seems to exceed

her affection for her own fatherless daughter, now an angry young

adult who lashes out and calls her a "stinkwood servant."

As we listen to Marta’s story, we watch her compulsively polish the

grand, stinkwood table that stands at the center of the room.

Blair Brown plays Dawid’s other lover, and white widowed wife, Allison

Olivier, a fairly conventional English speaking South African woman

who falls in love with and marries the fiery Dawid, accompanies him

into exile in London, and, after he has sunk into drunkenness and

despair, moves out. Although disappointed in Dawid, she doesn’t


him. She plans a posthumous volume of his poetry.

John Glover plays Dawid Olivier, a hyperactive sort whose


conviction" often verges on desperation and sarcastic lunacy.

His presence on stage is invaluable for he is the only character who,

rather than standing rooted to the spot, is allowed to jump, and


and dance about. A high point of his antics is the moment when, as

a young man, he recites names out of the local phone book, creating

a poem which he then calls "A Karoo Directory."

As Rebecca, the mixed-race daughter of Marta and Dawid, Marcy Harriell

— "a White man’s bastard in the New South Africa" as Dawid

eventually calls her, Marcy Harriell does a superb job. Her presence

is magnetic even as she spends most of the play simply eavesdropping

on the other women’s stories; until the moment she joins the tale

of woe.

"This world is going to change and when it does, I’ll come back

and you will be proud of me because I will have worked for that


Dawid had promised his baby daughter. It’s a promise that haunts his

remaining years. The play’s silent partner is the Roman poet Ovid,

whose volume written in exile is titled "Sorrows." Whereas

Dawid had hoped to complement Ovid’s with his own book of poems, which

he would title "Rejoicings," exile hits him hard. The


in gray, wet London becomes a listless drunk. "Your soul speaks

with your mother’s tongue," says this lost soul.

Once again, set designer Susan Hilferty, Fugard’s long-time


has vividly evoked the colors, textures, and spaces of South Africa’s

semi-arid Karoo region. The mottled earth tones of the room’s interior

walls, lit by Dennis Parichy, mutate from brown and beige to amber,

red, and violet, providing a natural and emotional landscape that

lives, breathes, and changes over the course of the play.

— Nicole Plett

Sorrows and Rejoicings, McCarter Theater, 91


Place, 609-258-2787. $29 to $43. Continues to May 20.

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