Athol Fugard was a staunch anti-apartheid writer, whose passion about injustice and cruelty gave us some truly powerful and memorable plays including ”Master Harold”…and The Boys, My Children! My Africa! and The Road To Mecca. As his politics drove his writing, when apartheid ended in 1994 and Nelson Mandela became President, Fugard’s focus shifted and he began writing more about people than ideals. Valley Song is one of those pieces.
[pullquote]In 1995 South Africa this gentle play may have been a welcome entertainment after so much turmoil, but for a 2015 Vancouver audience we need something deeper and more complex to buy in.[/pullquote]In Valley Song the character of The Author stands in for Fugard himself, telling the story of an elderly pumpkin farmer raising his granddaughter. They have a humble life; he is hardworking, and she is doting and helpful granddaughter.
She also has a great singing voice and dreams of going to the big city to become a singer. The grandfather is not happy with that idea because her mother ran away from home when she was a young lady and got into trouble. But she really wants to go. The Author teases her: why would she want to leave, isn’t helping out her grandfather fun? The central question becomes whether she stays or leaves.
This a warm and noble drama, but there is not a lot for us to grab onto. All the characters are sweet, well meaning, and not very interesting. The argument to stay or go gets repetitive as does the play’s structure where a scene is played out and then the characters talk about what just happened in that scene.
David Adams is grounded and warm in his two characters of The Author and grandfather. Sereana Malani is more dynamic as the playful and fun granddaughter, but there is little for her to do except show her passion and then pout when scolded.
The set by Drew Facey is striking with wooden slats suggesting mountains and cabins, and John Webber provides some nice lighting effects that portray the South African night sky.
Director Jovanni Sy keeps the show moving and gets rooted work from his actors, but to what end? In 1995 South Africa this gentle play may have been a welcome entertainment after so much turmoil, but for a 2015 Vancouver audience we need something deeper and more complex to buy in.
Valley Song by Athol Fugard. Directed by Jovanni Sy. A Gateway Theatre production. On stage at Gateway Theatre (6500 Gilbert Road, Richmond) until February 21. Visit http://gatewaytheatre.com for tickets and information.