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The Train Driver at the Fountain Theatre

January 20, 2011

When I left the Fountain Theatre last weekend after seeing Morlan Higgins and Adolphus Ward in Athol Fugard’s work, I shook my head and thought more that I had just witnessed a master acting class than a clever, interesting story, though it was both.

They’re generous with each other on stage under Stephen Sachs’ direction and patient, particularly Ward, who sits through Higgins’ lengthy monologue in which he explains why his character, Roelf Visagie, has appeared in the graveyard Simon Hanabe maintains. It’s a land of dirt, debris and rocks, where the only necessary tool is a shovel, and without flowers or blades of grass. It is South Africa.

Fugard gives Ward’s character his own monologues. Ward explains how he keeps a monologue properly paced and inflected. “The well from which I draw the fuel for any monologue is the story itself; when I have the pulse of the character, I feel what he is feeling and react as he reacts – for as long as it takes.”

Higgins adds, “Aside from the accent, I think it is vitally important with Fugard’s work to be truthful and not push for emotional or theatrical effect. His plays are not filled with tricky plot points or dramatic actions. The drama comes from what the characters are going through. If one is less than truthful at every moment, it’s nearly impossible to sustain the dramatic tension. His plays are built around and depend on truthful performances.”

It’s not my intent to review the piece, for this site never has been about critique. Yet I’m compelled to share my affection for this play, particularly having seen it so close to the end of its run (it must end January 30, according to the Fountain).

Among the accuracies of the piece, Ward and Higgins speak in dialect and toss in Xhosa and Afrikaans words and phrases. They might leave you deurmekaar (confused) but add a lovely texture. But getting right the pronunciation and inflection cannot come easily.

Ward and Higgins worked with dialect coach JB Blanc. Ward says, “JB is one hell of a teacher and coach. In addition, he is an actor himself, so he comes with an actor’s sense of things. He not only gives you the inflection of the dialect but also its tones, color – the feelings embracing what is being said.”

Higgins agrees. “JB was absolutely brilliant. It’s a tremendously difficult accent for American actors and he made it much easier with his diligence and personal approach.”

Stephen Sachs told me over lunch last year how surreal it is to work with Fugard. He recounted the times they sat on the floor together, going over story and dialogue, and feeling such awe in those moments. The Fountain, which recently won 5 Ovation Awards, including Best Season and Best Ensemble and Best Director, has mounted since 2000 several Fugard plays, including The Road to Mecca, Exits and Entrances, Victory, and Coming Home.

Ticket information here.

One Comment leave one →
  1. January 20, 2011 2:22 pm


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