Despite some weaknesses in the production, it is a challenge worth accepting. Though the play was created and is set in the time of Apartheid in South Africa, with harsh miscegenation laws that forbade relations between races, one need not look far to see this play's relevance to modern America and the Pacific Northwest.
|Darien Torbert and Amanda Rae. Photo: Dave Hastings|
|Chris Shea as the Policeman. Photo: Dave Hastings|
In language both plain and ornate, direct and allusive, the conversation continues, a slow and delicate struggle to overcome the shame and fear of being seen in one's true form, naked, vulnerable and real. The audience, too, is given time to adjust to the perhaps uncomfortable experience of witnessing nakedness and intimacy in close theatrical quarters as the darkness slowly brightens toward a faint dawn.
That dawn never quite comes, though, as the gathering menace of the outside world, embodied in the blunt-speaking Policeman, Det. Sgt. J. du Preez (Chris Shea) surrounds the love pair in a trap of law and prejudice. A nosy neighbor informs on the mixed-race couple, the trap is sprung, and into the glow of their dawning trust pierce harsh-strobing flashbulbs and spotlights. The dream has ended; the nightmare remains. Light, the slow friend of truth, becomes the swift enemy of hope.
In this roughly middle third of the show the audience witnesses in a most visceral way the grindingly inhumane consequences of systemic racism and institutional injustice. The Policeman reads a detailed statement of the facts of the couple's law-breaking. The nakedness of the lovers and their tenderness for each other -- all executed with breath-bating skill by directors and actors -- contrast vividly with cruel ejection from their tiny lost square of Paradise.
The last section of the play consists primarily of a monologue by the Man, a poem and diatribe directed at unseen persons -- perhaps simply the audience in a real sense: those who witness. The lovers are torn asunder. The Man describes his body being taken away piece by piece: "Exhibit A... Exhibit B..." He speaks of God, perhaps to God. He finds his only victory in final separation from the God of white privilege. To be destroyed by the system is to be liberated from its constraints and injustices; to no longer be seen at all.
|Amanda Rae as Frida Joubert. Photo: Dave Hastings|
This is a challenging work to pull into a state of theatrical unity, and the production does not fully succeed in doing so. Torbert's long solo at the end seems desultory as his movements around the stage and his upward directed gaze lack a clear focus. Similarly, the directors create many moments of truly startling authenticity and tension, yet fail to merge the disparate voices and threads of the play into an entirely coherent take-away.
The sound track, which consists of various moods of period and other music, then harsh effects of capture and oppression, ends the show with an ongoing mechanical offstage sound that suggests a stifling, ill-functioning air circulator. Inhuman and oppressive in effect, it somehow distracts from the already challenging closing monologue
|Darien Torbert as Errol Philander. Photo: Dave Hastings|
Theater Schmeater, located on 3rd Avenue and Blanchard in Belltown, sits squarely outside of Seattle's more fashionable theater neighborhoods: downtown (ACT), the Seattle Center (Rep, Book-It, Seattle Shakes), and Capitol Hill (12th Ave Arts.) Approaching the theater, you will see evidence of America's home-grown class apartheid: homeless, disabled, addicted, poverty-trapped Americans largely invisible or untouchable to the affluent drinkers, diners and condo-dwellers that make Belltown boom.
One of the many virtues of this daring, important, and justifiably angry production is that on leaving the theater, you may find some light shed on those people you pass on the street, and on your own position and responsibility for them. It's easy to wear a button or post a sign that Black Lives Matter. Are you willing to see up close the effects of a system that, for all its fine words, denies that daily in deeds? I suggest you try.
Now through August 12 at
2125 3rd Ave. Seattle
"Statements After an Arrest Under the Immorality Act"
by Athol Fugard
Directed by Emily Marie Harvey and Jordan-Michael Whidbey
Run-time 85 minutes