Studio Theatre's My Children! My Africa!

Sunday night I could be found at Studio Theatre for the final performance of Athol Fugard’s My Children! My Africa! It was the final performance, so I suppose a review doesn’t do much good, since you can’t go see it. But you should have. I will review it anyway because all those involved deserve the accolades. The reviews that came out unanimously praised this production. And for good reason. It was incredibly moving and powerful.

My Children! My Africa! takes place in 1984 South Africa. The country’s citizens are suffering under apartheid. In the middle of this heated political situation, a white teenager (Veronica del Cerro as Isabel Dyson) and a black teenager (Yaegel T. Welch as Thami Mbikwana) develop a strong bond as they learn about literature from Anela Myalatya (James Brown-Orleans).

The play opens lightly as Isabel and Thami match up against each other in a debate arranged by Myalatya, whom the students call Mr. M. The debate goes so well that Mr. M gets the two of them to agree to pair up for an English quiz competition. This partnership soon falls victim to the social and political climate. Thami quits studying in order to join the resistance against the wishes of his teacher. Mr. M believes the way to freedom is through education and non-violent means. Thami feels Mr. M’s ways are old-fashioned and have accomplished nothing. The tension that the play builds is wrenching; the conclusion tragic.

I am not an easy crier, but the performances of those three actors kept me weeping through the entire second act. All three clearly portray the individual struggles their characters feel and they ways in which these struggles conflict with the others. Veronica del Cerro gives a moving portrayal of a young woman whose growing love of these two men cannot overcome the fact that she is still an outsider to their world by virtue of her birth. Welch imbues Thami with a physicality of youthful awkwardness that we can all recall from our adolescence. The audience watches him become a man as he deals with his respect for Mr. M and his frustration with his teacher’s beliefs. His monologue at the end of the first act is simply wonderful. Brown-Orleans is endearing as Mr. M. His portrayal is the strongest of all. He is full of hope, yet has a quiet authority. As his world falls apart, the audience watches him struggle and grasp to hold onto what he has tried to accomplish with his whole life. His acting is devoid of any tricks, self-indulgence, or falseness. Instead it is raw and utterly heartbreaking. And special mention must be made of the actors’ excellent grasp of their accents. Praise is due to them and to dialect coach Betty Ann Leeseberg-Lange.

5 stars (that's right! the elusive 5 star rating!)


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