Like a story told in a sing-song voice, Valley Song by Athol Fugard is part musical, part memory, part morality tale. And while the show shines in moments of subtle reflection, it struggles to keep the stakes high.
What it lacks in stakes though, it makes up for in sincerity.
Veronika Jonkers, a luminous Sereana Malani, is a dreamer searching for a shot at singing stardom. Aching for the chance to stand beneath the big city lights of Johannesburg, she scrimps and strategizes to get her small town self a one way ticket out of her village.
But Veronika’s mother did the same and it left a terrible taste in her grandfather Abraam Jonkers’ mouth. Complicating things further is the arrival of an author looking to buy up the land Abraam has poured his life into.
Which dream does Abraam hold nearest? The land he’s loved his whole life, or the last living relative born to run away?
The struggle between the two primary characters is familiar. Do the dreams of the young supersede those of the old? Does the play seek to answer that question in a new way?
Veronika’s conflict with her grandfather feels like a small blip in her story – will she or won’t she achieve fame? But for Abraam, it is the final question. The focus shifts from the rise of the young to the duty of the old with Valley Song recognizing the beauty in sacrifice.
David Adams is tender and nuanced as both grandfather and author. His rage is a prism containing a rainbow of feelings that seem to tumble just beneath the surface.
It is Sereana Malani though who highlights the show. Oscillating between sad country matron and joyful hero, her range is as subtle as it is wide. Coupled with a voice that stole the air from the room, she is a theatrical feat waiting to happen.
Unfortunately, there is one downside in a story focusing on a moment of acceptance. We wait for the conflict, and we wait for the heroic win, but neither really come. At times, the story begins to plod as we wait for the next song to tickle our ears.
Thanks to a beautifully humble set design by Drew Facey, and cunning direction by Jovanni Sy though, Valley Song does leaves a glow as warm as a South African sunset.
Valley Song is a story of acceptance. Of who you are, what you want, and what your duty is to yourself and others. Like a humble primrose, Valley Song isn’t showy. It’s just true. And there’s a great deal of beauty in that.
Valley Song written by Athol Fugard. Directed by Jovanni Sy. On stage at Pacific Theatre (1440 West 12th Avenue, Vancouver) until April 8. Visit http://pacifictheatre.org for tickets and information.