Brings Fugard’s The Island
to Rooke Theatre
International Festival of the Arts (MIFA) and Mount Holyoke
College are presenting a new production of Athol Fugard’s
The Island October 16–19 at the Alice Withington Rooke
Theatre. The play is directed by award-winning South African
director and playwright Malcolm Purkey. Two South African actors,
Thami Mngqolo and Mpho Oseu-Tutu, are making their American
debut in this drama.
Written in 1973 in the midst of the apartheid era in South Africa, The Island
is one of Fugard’s most powerful plays. It is set on Robbin Island, located
just off the Cape Town mainland, where South African political prisoners were
incarcerated. (Nelson Mandela spent most of his 26 years of imprisonment there.)
The play involves two lifetime inmates who stage a production of Sophocles’ Antigone,
the story of a woman who obeyed the laws of morality rather than the laws of
the state and ultimately was killed for her defiance. As the evening of the inmates’ performance
nears, one of the prisoners learns that his sentence has been commuted. This
leaves his fellow inmate and actor to contemplate his own grim future behind
bars. The play’s despair, compassion, and comedy illuminate the nature
of resistance, both the pain and anguish it entails and the uplifting humanity
Purkey is the founder of Junction Avenue Theatre in Johannesburg, one of the
longest-surviving workshop theatre companies in South Africa. Established in
1976, a few weeks before the Soweto uprising, which signaled the beginning of
the end of apartheid, the company has committed itself to making theatre that
is strongly rooted in the social and historical events that have shaped contemporary
South African society. "[The Island] talks of freedom in a very powerful
way," Purkey said. "I think now it actually gains an added edge because
of the miracle of democracy in South Africa."
Playwright Athol Fugard was born in South Africa in 1932. He describes himself
as an Afrikaner writing in English. Nearly all his plays are set in South Africa
and reflect the reality of apartheid and postapartheid society. His Master Harold
and the Boys just completed a successful run on Broadway starring Danny Glover.
The Island is one of three "Statement Plays" written by Fugard in
the early 1970s. These plays, which also include Sizwe Bansi Is Dead (1972) and
Statements after an Arrest under the Immorality Act (1972), experimented with
improvisation and directly attacked the South African apartheid laws.
The cast will be on hand for "talk backs" after each performance.
For more information, go to www.mifafestival.org or call