by David Dubov
I came to Athol Fugard’s A Lesson From Aloes early, having seen it in London not long after it premiered. It was at a small theater, in the round, making for a very intimate evening. Apartheid was still very much in force in South Africa at that time, and it seemed that news items about it were on the BBC every night. But I was a naive American, living abroad in my little ex-pat bubble, and I went into the theater not knowing what was coming.
I was floored. I can remember being stunned by the interplay of the three characters, the play unreeling in a flash. I felt the weight of the oppressive system on them, the full force of which – happening to real people in a real country halfway around the world – was finally driven into my soul.
Needless to say, the piece stuck with me, and, when the opportunity came 35 years later to be lucky enough to perform it, I jumped at the chance to tell this story. And Quotidian was the place to do so, with its continuing mission to present works that give us a glimpse of people just over the garden fence.
Of course, that’s particularly relevant to Aloes, and it allows performers and audience alike to experience the stifling narrowness of a world that is cut off from the rest of humanity by an unjust system of oppression.
Listen for the point where Gladys berates her Afrikaner husband Piet, telling him: “This is what a conversation with you has become… a catalogue of South African disasters.”
These characters, representing three aspects of apartheid society, English, Afrikaner, and Coloured, are trapped in an endless loop of self-loathing, able to talk of nothing else. But, we realize with descending despair, that this prison is man-made, that the repression has shackled everyone, black and white, with its indiscriminate brutality.
And, in turn through Fugard’s genius, we are drawn into how each character reacts to that confinement.
I won’t spoil your experience by spelling it out, but I think, like me, that you’ll be floored as you watch over that garden fence.
A LESSON FROM ALOES April 29 – May 29, 2016 at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda. Tickets are available now