Saturday Night at the Palace - Pasadena Star-News Reviewposted by Nick Cernoch at 11:56 AM
Furious Theatre Company marks anniversary with `Saturday Night at the Palace'
By Frances Baum Nicholson, Correspondent
Article Launched: 05/01/2008 02:52:59 PM PDT
If one had to pick a time when theater mattered, few could stand up to 1982, and the interracial Space Theatre in Cape Town, South Africa. There, Paul Slabolepszy and Athol Fugard (now South Africa's best known theatrical voice) broke apartheid law by putting black and white actors together on the stage, holding up a mirror to whomever would look regarding what their country's racial policy was doing to their country's people.
One play to emerge from that time, Slabolepszy's "Saturday Night at the Palace," became ground-breaking a second time when it was adopted as the first venture of the Furious Theatre Company, now the resident group at the Carrie Hamilton Theatre upstairs at the Pasadena Playhouse. Challenging and adventurous, the Furious crew of committed performers create theater intended to make people uncomfortable, willing to discuss, and ready to rethink. They have done so, intimately well, for six years. Now they return to the play that started it all, celebrating their own history and the reopening of their renovated home.
The play, done without intermission, rivets one from the first moments. Forsie's motorcycle has broken down, and he and his fellow Afrikaner passenger, Vince, are stuck at a closed roadside burger stand called Rocco's Burger Palace, where a Zulu employee is in the process of cleaning up from the day. Gradually, what begins as a moment of frustration escalates to sociopathic behavior on the part of Vince, laced with a core-deep, universally acknowledged racism which keeps anyone from being able to check the progress of events.
Director Damaso Rodriguez has been able to bring back his entire original cast from six years ago. Their ease with the characters allows a naturalism that makes the tale all the more scary. As Vince, Shawn Lee spouts Afrikaans, which mixes liberally into his conversation, with such natural conviction that it becomes understandable even without consulting the handy glossary in the program. Almost vibrating with an undercurrent of rage, Lee's character manages to seem explosive from the start and still have places to go - a very neat trick indeed.
Eric Pargac, playing Vince's rather milquetoast friend Forsie, develops into that most impossible of men: a person with a conscience who is simply too weak and self-centered to do anything about it. Again, the turn proves so naturalistic it plays well against Vince's intensity. Sean Blakemore's majestic September, calming his seething anger at mistreatment, desperately trying to keep from being destroyed by the thoughtless actions of a pair of visiting rowdies, fills the stage both physically and emotionally. He is most impressive when not doing what he easily could, being larger and stronger than either of his tormentors. It's a fascinating physical as well as emotional juxtaposition.
"Saturday Night at the Palace" proves an excruciating window back on a time when long-held beliefs and legal restrictions made strong men weak and weak men strong. It is the two men around Vince who define the inequities in the system. Vince would be a sicko anywhere. And that can translate this play into any place and time where inequities create an unequal playing field.
And this is what you'll be discussing afterward, among other things. Happy birthday, Furious.