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Connecticut Theater

"Blood Knot"
Stamford Theatre Works, Stamford

It is through Athol Fugard’s body of work that most of us truly discovered the South African world of Apartheid. His plays helped bring to life the victims and perpetrators who lived under that oppressive system.

One of Fugard’s earliest pieces, written in 1952, is “Blood Knot,” the tale of two brothers—Morris, the light-skinned one, and Zach, the black man. It is clearly the work of a young playwright, one learning his trade. “Blood Knot,” vivid though it is, has its flaws. The play sports a rickety structure, with the dialogue wandering about and rambling at length. And many questions are raised which are left unresolved. Yet the piece shows glints of the genius to come, with themes initiated that will flower in later pieces. “Blood Knot” particularly forecasts Fugard’s masterpiece “Master Harold and the Boys.”

Still, this superb production at Stamford Theatre Works under Patricia R. Floyd’s able direction makes for a worthy evening--and in fact gives “Blood Knot” better than it deserves. Both Chris Edwards (Morris) and Leopold Lowe (Zachariah or Zack) provide powerful performances which surmount the play’s problems. And Richard Ellis’ stage set is right on target, creating the gritty dismal world of the black man in Apartheid South Africa.

The story concerns two brothers who live in a ramshackle hut in Port Elizabeth. Zack labors in a whites-only park, serving as gate-keeper who is obliged to keep out his fellow blacks. Morris, clearly the brainier, tends the house, makes the meals, oversees the finances. But the brothers have conflicting dreams. Morris is saving their money (Zack’s earnings) for a small farm, while Zack longs only for a good time, replete with whiskey and women. Along the way, to satisfy Zack’s need for female company, Morris involves him in a pen-pal relationship—one which nearly proves disastrous for them both.

Intriguing though this material is, it never comes sharply into focus. And more questions are raised than answered. Why is one brother almost white? Why can one read and write, while the other is illiterate? Why doesn’t Morris have a job? Why did he return home from the great world beyond, and why does he suddenly spend those savings earmarked for the farm? Why does Zack change precipitously from a simple man to an articulate, forceful personality?

Yet there are indeed memorable scenes. In particular, the brothers enact a white-black confrontation that accelerates from a game to chilling reality. It is a scene that Fugard will later apply brilliantly—and more pointedly—in his “Master Harold and the Boys.” Edwards and Lowe perform a pas de deux, a veritable ballet, working together seamlessly as they bring the hapless pair to life.

Whatever the play’s problems (confusion and repetition), this production, with its fine direction, design, and performances, carries the day.

-- Irene Backalenick
Feb. 4, 2005

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