Review: The Painted Rocks at Revolver Creek

Through June 7, 2015

Athol Fugard’s “The Painted Rocks at Revolver Creek” at the Signature Theater is, as most of Fugard’s plays are, about apartheid in South Africa. It is also, as most of his plays are, about the struggle between any two sides — when it comes to divisions over race, class, and economic status — to, at the very least, listen to each other.

“The Painted Rocks” resonates simultaneously as a look at two moments in recent South African history (during and after apartheid) and as a lens on current smoldering race/class/economic frustrations that are fueling protests around the U.S. and, indeed, the world.

Some tightening in the second act might benefit the dramatic flow, but the cast is so thoroughly enveloped by Fugard’s language, and the issues are so universal, that it hardly matters. Bless the Signature’s benefactors, who make $25 tickets available; take advantage.

The rapport between 13-year-old Caleb McLaughlin, playing an 11-year-old orphan named Bokkie, and the aging servant (played by Leon Addison Brown) who has taken Bokkie under wing and who together spend their Sundays painting flowers on rocks on the bosses’ arid land, is stunning.

In the second act, Bokkie returns 20 years later (now played by Sahr Ngaujah) to restore his mentor’s final painted rock but equally to try to make some sense and peace with the white Afrikaner land owners, in particular the wife (Bianca Amato) who had wanted to wash the rock and threatened the young Bokkie.

The arguments are hardly surprising, but the dramatic tension, and the overtones touching on such immediate issues are devastating. Ironically, as we left the theater on 42nd Street at 10th Avenue, a line of protesters in solidarity with those in Baltimore (and Ferguson and Detroit and . . . ) were rounding the corner as they marched downtown, with police closely in tow. Athol Fugard himself — a hearty if surprisingly elfin 83 — had left the building just a few minutes earlier. (Seen April 29, 2015.)

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