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Theatre Review (LA): Victory by Athol Fugard at the Fountain Theatre

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The Fountain Theatre and Athol Fugard have an ongoing relationship. In fact, Fugard
considers the Fountain his American home, quite an honor for a small (99-seat) but multi-award-winning theater on the outskirts of Hollywood. Judging by the current production of Victory I can understand why. Stephen Sachs, director of the play and the theater’s artistic director, previously produced and directed a production of Fugard’s Exits and Entrances that garnered multiple awards. Fugard has given Sachs the exclusive U.S. rights to produce this current offering.

After apartheid ended, Fugard was faced with a dilemma. What was the world-famous playwright, renowned for writing plays about South Africa’s oppressive apartheid system, going to write about now? Mandela was free and reconciliation was underfoot. However, many of the racial hostilities were driven underground, and disparities between whites and non-whites did not disappear. Fugard had found his subjects and could write with sorrow, compassion, and fervor about what he observed. One play that has resulted is the ironically titled Victory.

The story is a simple one and takes only an hour or so to tell. It’s the “old days,” and two young blacks, a man named Freddie (Lovensky Jean-Baptiste) and the strung out, highly distraught Vicky (Tinashe Kajese), break into the house of Vicky’s mom’s “master” looking for cash. Vicky’s mom had been a servant in this house but it turns out had also been very close to its “mistress.” When they both subsequently died they left a bereaved old man, Lionel Bensen (Morian Higgins), alone in the house. During the break-in the old man awakes and a struggle, both physical and psychological, ensues with tragic results. There are no winners but the question of hope and how to deal with the past are explored.

The performers are first-rate. Especially moving is the hyperkinetic Tinashe Kajese. Originally from Zimbabwe, she brings great authenticity to the role of Vicky. Her accent is so thick that at times she is hard to understand, but we understand anyway, through the clarity of her performance. Jean-Baptiste is downright scary as Freddie but he gets us to understand his pain. Higgins is outstanding as Bensen and is obviously Fugard’s “stand-in.” I wonder what were the true circumstances behind the events in the play. Stephen Sachs directs with precision and passion, keeping things taut and moving all the way to the tragic conclusion.

Victory runs at The Fountain Theatre through March 23.

About Robert Machray