Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Backstage West Review - Critic's Pick

posted by Nick Cernoch at 5:29 PM

Photo by: Anthony Masters

Saturday Night at the Palace
April 30, 2008
By Les Spindle

Furious Theatre Company commemorates its sixth anniversary by revisiting the group's 2002 debut production, featuring that production's cast and director. Paul Slabolepszy's lacerating drama, which premiered in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 1982, remains a timelessly resonant portrait of the devastating human impact engendered by fascistic governmental regimes that practice institutionalized bigotry. Director Dámaso Rodriguez, guiding a finely calibrated ensemble and an exemplary design team, elicits an electrifying theatre experience.

Set in 1982 in the outskirts of Johannesburg, seven years before the official repeal of apartheid, the story is inspired by a true incident: a tragic confrontation among three desperate men. The cocky and belligerent white youth Vince (Shawn Lee) blames society -- and the South African blacks in particular -- for his lot in life as a hooligan who sponges off of others. His white roommate Forsie (Eric Pargac) initially appears to be a more rational and civilized young man, though he has startling surprises up his sleeve. When the two, pushing their stalled motorcycle, happen upon a remote roadhouse, Vince immediately instigates conflict with September (Sean Blakemore), the Zulu manager of the eatery, which has just shut down for the night. There's more to the edgy friendship between the two intruders than meets the eye, enriching the narrative with a multilayered exploration of the myriad ramifications of social unrest in a toxic political system.

There are passages in Afrikaans, coached by Jonathon Kassel, and in Zulu, coached by Caseline Kunene and Bridgette Ramafodi. Dialect consultant Joel Goldes worked with the cast on the South African-accented dialogue. While I can't vouch for the authenticity of Golde's results, words are sometimes unintelligible, particularly in Lee's pronunciations. Yet the characters' emotional truths consistently ring true. In a powerful portrayal, Lee is properly detestable as the racist thug -- a lost soul who's adrift in a dysfunctional cultural environment. Pargac superbly depicts the decent-guy side to his character, and he's equally on target in foreshadowing Forsie's less-heroic traits. Blakemore's indelible portrait of September's courage, dignity, and suppressed fury in the face of horrific abuse heightens the tragedy of this mesmerizing parable of life in a pressure cooker.

Presented by Furious Theatre Company at the Carrie Hamilton Theatre,

39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena.
Thu.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 7:30 p.m. Apr. 26-May 31.
(800) 595-4849.


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