Athol Fugard's Valley Song premiered in Johannesburg, South Africa, in August, 1995. The playwright himself directed the production and played two of the play's three characters: The Author, a figure modeled on Fugard himself, and Abraam Jonkers, the elderly “coloured” farmer who represents the “old” South Africa. Fugard repeated this theatrical tour de force when the play reached America, in a production by the Manhattan Theatre Club at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, New Jersey, in October, 1995. Both performances were warmly received by audiences and critics, several of whom expressed gratitude that Fugard was still writing intense, meaningful dramas about the lives of ordinary South Africans, even in the post-apartheid era.
Since the playwright had built his career over four decades of writing about the injustices of apartheid and state-mandated racial segregation, there was some concern when apartheid officially ended in 1992, and Nelson Mandela, a black leader, was elected president in 1994, that Fugard may have run out of things to say. However, as Jack Barbera observed in the Nation, “Valley Song is as timeless as it is timely, a story of the old fearful of change and the young with their hopes and impatience, and of a teller of stories.”
Like most of Fugard's plays, the plot of Valley Song is quite simple, and less important than the secrets it reveals about its characters are the themes it presents its audience. The play contains two stories woven into one. In the first, a young, black South African girl decides to leave her elderly grandfather behind on their farm in the Sneeuberg Valley so she can escape to the city and pursue her dreams of becoming a famous singer. The other story concerns an aging white South African playwright who is prepared to leave behind the “artificial” world of the theater and urban life and move himself back to his origins in the farmland of the Karoo. His days of planning and dreaming about the “Glorious Future” are nearing an end just as the young girl's are beginning, and Valley Song is really the tale of the torch of hope passing from one generation to the next—a bold and magnificent gesture by a man whom many critics have dubbed one of the greatest living English-language playwrights.