'My Africa!' slowly becomes riveting

November 29, 1991|By Lou Cedrone | Lou Cedrone,Evening Sun Staff

ATHOL Fugard's ''My Children! My Africa!'' doesn't really take form until the second act, but when it does, is very moving drama.

The first act is a bit windy. It is in no hurry to go anywhere, but the production, at Center Stage, always looks good, is beautifully acted, and the second act includes scenic touches that are almost spectacular.

''My Children! My Africa!'' has only three characters. One is a teacher at a school in South Africa. The others are students, a young black man and a white girl. The students have met to take part in a debate competition, and at first the play sounds as though it is going to explore the role of women in Africa.

That, however, is not Fugard's intention. The playwright has always been far more interested in the struggle that continues in his country, and the rest of the play is about that.

The black student is seething. It is 1984, and he is impatient with the situation that plagues his country. He believes in action, not words.

The teacher, on the other hand, believes in words, education. He wants this gifted young man to use his intellect to achieve his goals, but the student is not about to listen. He is rabid in his eagerness to join the movement and does, to the despair of the teacher, who gives the names of students who have boycotted his class to the police.

That makes him a traitor to the others, and they mark the man for death.

Moses Gunn is Mr. M., the teacher, and he is magnificent. This is a completely different Gunn, a man who has done a number of films and in most of them has been somber and menacing. Here, he is animatedly eccentric. It is a very interesting performance.

Kathleen McNenney is equally interesting as the young white girl who has never been exposed to life in the ''location,'' an impoverished black settlement. She seems a bit naive, even for an 18-year-old, but then we'll take the playwright's word for this.

Victor Mack is Thami, the young man who wants to take an active part in the struggle. His too, is an exceptional performance, though he tends to scream when it isn't all that necessary.

It may not be his fault. It could be the fault of director Lisa Peterson, who, in all other respects, has treated the material well, particularly in the second act when the stage door opens on Monument Street. Later, a white chiffon curtain falls, separating the girl from the rear, and once more, the effect is impressive.

''My Children! My Africa!'' will remain at Center Stage through Dec. 22. It runs longer than it should, is a bit slow making its point, but when it does, is intensely moving.

''My Children! My Africa!''

** A teacher in a school in South Africa tries to persuade one of his students to use the word rather than the sword.

CAST: Moses Gunn, Kathleen McNenney, Victor Mack

DIRECTOR: Lisa Peterson

RUNNING TIME: Two hours and 37 minutes with one intermission.

TICKETS: 332-0033

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