Mia is a cis dramaturg/actor/artist. White.

Becca is queer, a Native-Philadelphian, and a child of Egyptian Immigrants.

Mia

Pocket time! I walked in with relatively little for Playland. I’ve read some of Athol Fugard’s work before, but I have never seen it staged. I’m drawn to plays that have more of a political bent to them, so I was hopeful going in.  I don’t personally know the artists who were on the team for this one, so relatively blank slate. That being said, I saw Richard Bradford in The Birds at Curio, and I enjoyed his work then.

 

Becca

I had honestly no idea what the play was about until I got there and read the postcard. I happened to be planning on going to this show on Sunday because my friend Rich Bradford, who played Martinus, invited me. Although I didn’t know this was the same show until already in the theatre. I worked with Rich on The Just this past Fringe and, as shown in this, he is always a very giving performer. Also in my pockets I hold my identity as a light passing Black woman of native Egyptian descent.

Mia

So without knowing what you were in for, what did you think of the play?

Becca

Well, when I read the postcard I got really excited. I hadn’t remembered hearing of Fugard’s work before but am always excited about pieces that unpack Black experiences, especially in colonized Africa. Although I thought the direction was great, the performances were powerful, the lights gave a off a chilling mood, the sound built a sad and nostalgic tone, the set created a dynamic landscape- with what we both called an “adult sandbox.” The thing is- based on the phrasing of the postcard I thought the story was going to be about the black nightwatchman, but the show did not feel that way at all. It was, to me, about a regretful white man who has killed many black people and now needs this black man to forgive him and somehow this will bring about unity.

Mia

I appreciate that that was where the story ended up going, though. I think it would have been strange for Fugard, a white African man, to try and speak on behalf of the black people experiencing colonization. It made sense to me that we end up seeing Gideon LeRoux being this example of what happens when white people impose themselves on black bodies.

Becca

See YES! I wanted that to be what the show was about. That this white man came all up into this black man’s space and pestered him, even threatening him at some points. And yet we are reminded that this black man will always have to be the scapegoat for forgiveness, but will be punished more harshly for the death of one- then this white man with his many actions.

Mia

But perhaps that’s one of the points that Fugard is making? The inequality?

Becca

I don’t think that Furgard was NOT trying to point out the inequality- but here’s the thing. The people in control of that process were white. As a POC- I FELT that while watching. I couldn’t remember hearing of Athol Fugard before but I could tell the white narrative, I saw the white world, even subtle stage directions that (although looked beautiful) pushed a power dynamic that made it feel (to me) that Martinus was a minor character in this white man’s journey through mental illness.

 

In the set for example I particularly liked the scattered popcorn, the tarp flaked with Gold paint, the hanging lights, the carnival signs- it made it feel whimsical but also made it seem as though the play is set in a long lost world. For example- in the opening scene, the white man is on stage in what is supposed to be Martinus’ area way before we get to build a relationship between Martinus and the space- which would have made it it HIS space. I’m not saying that when the white man enters he can’t have stage directions where he asserts his white power, which fits the character of Gideon, but he didn’t feel like a enough of a nuisance for me.

 

Mia

That’s so interesting! And as a white woman, I was really aware of how skewed towards Gideon’s story we were, and I was made uncomfortable by that fact. His presence, his impositions on Martinus, his assumptions about who Martinus was, his privileges as a white man….I felt all of it, and I thought that the production did a nice job of making sure I was aware of the inequalities. They leaned into that, so that I, as a white person, could be aware of my own privileges as well, if that makes sense.

 

Becca

Yes, I feel that. It felt like a show about white guilt and black peoples “obligation” to forgive them. I felt very aware that the show was written for white people.

 

Mia

Which is perhaps a failing of the play, in a way. I’m here for pieces that make white people check our privileges and then perhaps recalibrate, but I don’t love it when a play makes people of color feel excluded or exacerbates the experience of marginalization.

 

Becca

I don’t think pieces about race should be made without AT LEAST an equal number of each race included in the process, especially if you’re talking about  marginalized people. If that were true, even with this script- a black eye on the process (or multiple) could have possibly had a chance at preventing my feeling this way. Their perspectives would allow the narrative of Martinus’s perspective to be amplified.

 

Mia

In terms of the production, what were your thoughts on Mark Cairns’ and Rich Bradford’s work? I think they both delivered strong performances.

 

Becca

I thought Rich and Mark were both phenomenal. Mark’s piercing eyes and Rich’s expressive face were made for black box theatres. I really loved the PTSD flashback scenes where Mark danced with the tickets, he really made it look fun and it made Gideon a likable character despite all odds.  

 

Mia

Mark’s physical work was particularly striking in its specificity. He never seemed comfortable in his own skin (in a good way!), which was in nice balance with Rich.

 

Becca

The contrast in speed between them was powerful to me- with Rich’s slow dragging of his body and Mark’s quick, military jolts. AND we must not forget that this was just a preview! I heard they had their first full run that day!

 

Mia

Oh yes! That was something I was trying to remind myself of as I watched. I felt some inconsistencies in the design, and I wondered if some of that had to do with glitches during the preview.

 

Becca

Like what?

 

Mia

All of the design elements had some moments of brilliance. The set was beautifully constructed with careful attention to detail, but it was a small set packed into an already small space. As a consequence, the actors did not have a lot of room to move. Certainly useful when you want a kind of “boxing ring” effect, but I felt like the actors didn’t have room to stretch, which led to some energy dispersal that wasn’t always useful. Sometimes I wanted the physical tension to reflect the emotional tension more. And then with the lighting, the moments of PTSD for Gideon were lovely to look at, but I wasn’t sure if a separation of space was always achieved (especially when the lights were the thing that were supposed to take us to a different part of the park).

 

Becca

I agree the box could have been a little deeper, but I did feel the small space was one of the only things that gave it a sense that this was Martinus’s space- this tiny little corner in the back. I would have liked maybe an even smaller sandbox and more playing space around the box. But I do know there were a few cues missed or were late in the PTSD switches- which is normal for a preview.

 

Mia

Overall the design choices were effective, but they were a bit clunky in execution for the performance we saw.

 

Becca

Indeed. I really enjoyed the natural foley effect of the boots against the stones of the sandbox. The hollow sound of the big tin when Mark banged against it. The sound of the big plastic canopy being folded. They maybe weren’t done for the sound necessarily, but they felt very in the world for me.

 

Mia

Yes, that was a nice touch. It seemed like we were supposed to be in a fully realized space, so all of those “extras” like gravel, realistic prop pieces, etc. were all helpful to get us immersed in that world.

 

Becca

Exactly. Which made the carnival sounds feel more whimsical and the PTSD lights seem more ominous. Because it was so out of the world of the box. It was hard to believe there was even a Carnival at all really. Don’t you think? Just with the way it felt so decrepit.

 

Mia

That was where I wondered if some of the design could have helped pick up the slack, especially because we just had that one set to work with. More flashing lights or carnival/crowd sounds could have transported us more effectively.

 

Becca:

Yeah, maybe. There was something about the way it was that still made the carnival feel kind of empty. Which was actually powerful to me in the parts where he tried to talk to other people that weren’t there  and everyone ignored him. Felt so much more alone. But I agree that more carnival elements could have made the flashbacks sharper.

 

Mia

And how did you feel about C. Ryanne Domingues’s direction?

 

Becca

I thought there were some small awkward moments but for the most part- especially for a small stage with only two actors there was a lot of dynamic movement, interesting levels, and the graphic language really shone through, so I don’t want to be misconstrued in saying that her work wasn’t strong. It was.

But from a personal perspective, if white people want to learn allyship, if they want to unpack privilege- then they need to put POC in positions of power. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out why I was supposed to feel bad for Gideon. As if their sufferings were equal somehow. And the text definitely didn’t help avoid this. Gideon’s racism was not subtle, and yet it still felt like a white voice saying “we have problems too!”

 

Again, that is not to say I didn’t like the direction. I only say that to say that in cases like this- if allyship is the goal- hire a Black AD and let their voice be loud in the room. Actors can’t see the full outside picture, so Rich couldn’t have done anything to prevent me from feeling like he was just another prop in the white man’s narrative.

 

Mia

I agree with you there. Aside from the clumsy transitions (having Mark walk around behind the audience to make entrances was an awkward shift) and some of the blocking being stagnant during quieter moments, I thought Domingues teased out some harrowing, wordless beats between Martinus and Gideon that were powerful. As far as white allyship, it goes a long way to bring in people of color either onto your team, either as a designer or another outside eye (dramaturg, AD, etc.). Domingues is a fine director, but going that extra step to diversify her team a bit would have perhaps enriched the production more.

 

Becca

Yes, agreed. One last thing I wanted to mention: the dramaturgical note in the playbill. It briefly described the South African Border War- the war Gideon fought in (that I just had to google the name of because I think the name was actually mentioned little to no times in the play itself) was the Vietnam war of South Africa and many people in the area that is now Namibia were killed. I found it strange that it was the only dramaturgical note in the playbill at all. In the script itself, within the long line of racist jokes and commentary from Mark’s character, there was a long list of particularly Asian slurs.

 

Mia

My memory is failing me a bit; do you remember what they were, specifically? I’m not sure if was something I clocked.

 

Becca

There were many references to Japan and “the Japs” and nuclear bombing.

 

Mia

Right. What struck you as odd about it?

 

Becca

I just found the dramaturgical note odd because now that’s information I have in my pockets because I read it while I waited for the show to start. Then I started wondering if he served in WWII. I knew little to nothing about the South African Border War so I already felt a bit lost- with words like “dominees” and “Swapo”. It just added a bit to my confusion.The dramaturgical note could have been more detailed about the war itself. I didn’t understand the importance of SWAPO or the impact of the war until I got home and googled it.

 

Mia

That’s fair. My understanding was that Gideon used the atomic bombings in Japan just as reference – they’re so much in the collective, international consciousness. And in terms of the racial slurs, I wasn’t surprised that Gideon’s racism extended beyond slights against black people to include racism towards Asian people as well. He seemed programmed to view any non-white person as “other,” and therefore “lesser.”

 

Becca

Totally. I see that. I just thought the brevity of the note and that being the only fact we needed was confusing.

 

Mia

Certainly useful to note for any future productions of this piece. More historical information beforehand for the audience might arm them better going in.

 

Becca

Totally. Overall, I am really excited about this group of artists and can’t wait to see what will come from each of them next.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s