Playland by Athol Fugard
Directed by Anthony Ingram
Nov 5 - 27, 2010
I grew up in South Africa during the apartheid era and moved to Canada some 15 years before the time in which this play is set. Ironically it was here in Canada rather than in South Africa that I learned about and became an admirer of Athol Fugard 's plays.
The play is set in South Africa, on New Year's Eve in 1989. It is a month before President de Klerk lifts the ban on the African National Congress and six weeks before Nelson Mandela, later to become President of post-apartheid South Africa, is released from prison. Gideon (Michael Kopsa), a white Afrikaner soldier in the South African Defence Force, has returned home from fighting in the Border War, a 23 year long battle for control of South West Africa (Namibia) and Angola, against the Soviet Union- and Cuba-supported SWAPO. Suffering from what we would today call post-traumatic stress disorder, Gideon decides that on New Year's Eve it is time for him to dispel his internal devils and emerge from his isolation. He comes to Playland, a traveling amusement Park to participate in the fun. He arrives before the park is open and at the back entrance to the site he encounters Martinus.
Martinus (Tom Pickett) is the black night-watchman at Playland. He has his own dark secrets but looks to God and the bible for his comfort, and the ten commandments, as the way to live his life. Martinus can't figure out what this crazy white man wants with him. And when the park opens for action Gideon goes off to "play" fueling himself with the bottle of alcohol he brought along.
As Martinus's space, the back entrance to Playland, morphs into the frenetic sights and sounds of a crowded amusement park, the excellent technical work of the design team (set- Drew Facey, lighting- Laughlin Johnston, sound- Jeff Tymoschuk, projection- Trent Payton, videographer - Jesse Toso) shows, as it feels as if you are right there in the midway with the increasingly inebriated and belligerent Gideon.
The explosion of fireworks and the countdown signal the New Year and the closing of the amusement park. That's when Gideon returns to the back entrance to confront Martinus, and as the night passes, he forces both himself and Martinus to confront the guilt that each of them lives with.
Director Ingram gets the tension right as the two men gradually let their stories emerge, with both Kopsa and Pickett delivering solid performances. They struggled a bit with the accents, Kopsa intermittently more successful than Pickett, whom I often found difficult to understand.
I also wondered whether many of the South African allusions went over the head of those without a South African background like several mentions of De Aar, a northern railway town in the Karoo, or the acronym SWAPO, but it becomes apparent despite the South African setting, that the issues are more about the universality of guilt and forgiveness, and above all the ability to be honest with oneself.
Although at the time I was completely engrossed in the play and Gideon's experiences on the border, as I drove home I found myself wondering how many more Gideons's are being created among our young people currently on active duty in places like Afghanistan.
I thought this was a good production and a play worth seeing, especially because of that relevance to our times.
Playland runs till November 27th. For tickets call 604-731-5518 or book online at www.pacifictheatre.org