The Island, by Athol Fugard, John Kani, Winston Ntshona, directed by Peter DeLaurier, The Lantern Theater Company, May 17-June 10, 2012, opening May 23, 2012, for WRTI, 90. 1 fm
Two prisoners. Two men shoveling and straining under immense weight. Two prisoners during their down time rehearsing Sophocles. Doesn’t sound promising, does it? But Athol Fugard and his collaborators John Kani and Winston Ntshona (pronounce: Chona) knew what they were about in The Island at The Lantern now. The company which usually does well by the South African playwright outdoes itself in The Island. Frank X, in the role of John, and U.R as the reluctant Winston, exceed their customary virtuosity. The Island refers to South Africa’s austere, windswept Robben Island, the site of Nelson Mandela’s imprisonment. Once Antigone, Sophocles’ play within this play, was performed by Mandela, for other inmates. There are other inside references to the anti-apartheid movement, which Fugard created with his actor-collaborators Kani and Ntshona.
It takes awhile to figure out what Sophocles is doing in this South African prison but we get there and when we do it’s wonderful. The Island honors these men whose anti-apartheid principles have put them behind bars and whose lives are simply our lives in a different time and place. The Island is a tough and sad play and a very funny piece of theater. The way Frank X and U.R. play off each other, lock horns, Greek theater will not be the same. U.R.’s riff on envy is magnificent. He envies his buddy Winston’s approaching freedom. Frank X’s conversation to the outside world: replete with wonders. Peter De Laurier’s direction shows the power of his own fine actor’s timing. Janet Embree’s lighting heightens 90 powerful minutes of theater. The Island through June 10 at the Lantern.