This story-like artifact will appear in this week's St. Louis American with the hopes of getting folks out to see what promises to be some challenging local theater from an international source, the great Athol Fugard.
Journalism jargon note: The "staff" byline usually means one of two things - it's compiled from other sources with not enough original reporting to justify a byline, or more than one staff person worked on it but it's not quite a big enough deal to give them both credit.
This item is sort of both. But the production sounds important.
Upstream Theater stages anti-Apartheid classic
By American staff
Upstream Theater is showing that the Black Rep doesn’t have a local lock on producing South African playwright Athol Fugard or gutsy theatrical think pieces about race relations.
On Thursday, Oct. 23, Upstream Theater – a professional production company dedicated to presenting new works and inventive stagings of classical plays – opens a new production of Fugard’s revolutionary Blood Knot in the new Kranzberg Arts Center located in the Big Brothers, Big Sisters Building in Grand Center, 501 N. Grand.
The production, directed by Philip Boehm and starring J. Samuel Davis and John Pierson, runs for three weekends, from October 23 to November 9, Thursdays through Sundays at 8 p.m. except for Sundays at 7 p.m. Tonight’s show is a closed preview.
Blood Knot (1961) tells the story two half-brothers who share the same mother. Morris (played by Pierson) is so light-skinned he can pass for white, while Zachariah (played by Black Rep veteran Davis) is unmistakably black. After an attempt to pass for white, Morris has moved in with his black brother and is trying to atone for what he regards as his betrayal of Zach (who was played by James Earl Jones in the New York premiere).
Local audiences should enjoy a look at Davis in a new setting with some challenging material. A staple in the St. Louis theatre community for more than 20 years, he is best known as a principal performer with the the Black Rep, but his credentials extend to several performing arts organizations in St. Louis and throughout the country. He starred in the Midwest premieres of August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean and Dance on Widow’s Row for the Black Rep. Davis’ instinctive charm, comedic timing and emotional depth – coupled with a smooth, rich tenor voice – have made him the main attraction for many productions.
In Blood Knot, the brothers live together in a one-room shack in a crumbling section of Port Elizabeth, South Africa, the primary site of their struggles with themselves, each other, and their dreams and fears against the backdrop of apartheid South Africa.
When the play was first performed in 1961 in Johannesburg, with Fugard himself as Morris and former saxophonist Zakes Mokae as Zachariah, the actors were arrested. The play was banned by South African authorities, and censorhip laws were passed that prohibited racially mixed casts or audiences in theaters in South Africa.
Fugard had to endure having his home raided and his phone tapped by South African authorities. His passport was revoked in 1967, after Blood Knot appeared on British television, but was later returned to him in 1971, after a public petition.
"The play’s most dramatic moments, all in Act II, occur when Morris, toying with the notion of passing for white again in an assignation with Zach's pen pal, buys a ‘gentleman's suit’ and starts play-acting the role," Frank Rich writes in a 1985 New York Times review.
"However, the game, in which Zach assumes the guise of a subservient black ‘boy,’ gets out of hand; the two brothers find themselves swept up in a paradigm of racial apocalypse."
Set design for the new production is by Scott Neale, with costumes by Michele Siler and lighting by John Armstrong.
Tickets are $25 for general admission and $20 for seniors 65 and over or full time students (advance purchase). Special student rush tickets may be purchased for $15 or $12.50 on Thursdays (with valid ID). Visit http://www.upstreamtheater.org/ or call 314-863-4999 for more information. Tickets may also be purchased through brownpapertickets.org.