Athol Fugard Essay - Fugard, Athol (Vol. 5)

Fugard, Athol (Vol. 5)

Fugard, Athol 1932–

Fugard, a South African award-winning playwright, essayist, and short story writer concerned with the tragedies of his native land, is South Africa's best known dramatist.

Boesman and Lena is the third work by the South African dramatist Athol Fugard to be produced in this country: the previous ones were Blood Knot … and Hello and Goodbye…. Fugard is white and, as writer and director, has devoted himself to theater with "non-Europeans" in his country….

[Boesman and Lena] is not a protest play, though the pain of race hatred flames through it; it becomes, quickly and surely, a drama of all human beings in their differing captivities, suffering from and inflicting hate. Boesman and Lena are brown, the old Kaffir man is black, and the specifics of their wretched lives are caused by the history and policies of their country; but Fugard makes very clear that, within the circumference of their lives, they represent the larger world. He is not saying—not by the wildest stretch of selfcoddling imagination—that racial injustices do not signify; he is saying that those injustices are an extremity of the cruelty in all men. The reason that his play achieves towering height—as in the main it does—is because it includes the agony of apartheid and shows that apartheid is not devil-inflicted but manmade, and that Boesman is a man, too.

Fugard works with small means: his previous plays had two characters each, this one has three. The influence of Eugene O'Neill has always seemed strong in him, particularly in Hello and Goodbye, which dealt with some rather egregious symbols of a (white) family's doom. O'Neill's influence seems strong again here—but here it is the later, greater O'Neill, not the patent symbolist. What is this play but another long day's journey into a very dark night? And the quintessential dynamics is like that in late O'Neill: drama not by the encounter of obstacle but by the stripping naked of lives. This "moment" of two hours is an ontogeny that recounts our phylogeny: because Fugard has seen that, by telling crystalline truth about these wretches, with no clutter of theatrical device, he could not possibly leave us out. He has embraced these people so fiercely and lovingly that in their rags and drunkenness and cunning and persistence, they move through a small epic of contemporary man. I can think of no naturalistic play since [Gorki's] The Lower Depths that—far from using its subject for clinical study—so completely converts almost protozoan characters into vicars for us all…. (p. 16)

This play comes before us sublimely innocent of the news that this kind of theater is supposed to be dying, as many (including me) have said, with reason enough. Boesman and Lena is the kind of play that "nobody" writes any more, representational, sequential, mimetic; but it is rooted in such a felt need, its symbolism is so thoroughly assimilated, its tragic view so wholesouled, that it again proves a sometimes forgotten truth: no art-form is dead so long as it fits the purpose of a committed and talented artist. (p. 25)

Stanley Kauffmann, in The New Republic (reprinted by permission of The New Republic; © 1970 by The New Republic, Inc.), July 25, 1970.

Athol Fugard … is South Africa's most prominent playwright. By virtue of this reputation, Mr Fugard is also therefore one of the South African government's most prominent critics. His criticism is not polemically levelled, however, at pigmy politicians, but is expressed in a canon of dramatic writing which registers, in anguished and poetic terms, the suffering endured at the hands of those who rule and legislate. (p. 34)

Michael Coveney, "Challenging the Silence," in Plays and Players (© copyright Michael Coveney 1973), November, 1973, pp. 34-7.

[Plays] dealing with burning questions of the day are surely to be welcomed, provided that they are not mere agitprop exercises; and those of Athol Fugard most certainly are not. Indeed, Mr. Fugard's pictures of life in the dustbins of South African society have been widely hailed for the wrong reasons; readers of many reviews of them might easily suppose that these too were mere propaganda exercises. Though they have their faults, notably a sort of sentimental nostalgie de la boue, they are nothing of the sort, but at the least deeply sympathetic studies of ill-equipped people in miserable circumstances. (p. 22)

J. W. Lambert, in Drama, Spring, 1974.