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MIFA Brings Fugard’s The Island to Rooke Theatre


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October 17 , 2003

MIFA Brings Fugard’s The Island to Rooke Theatre

Director Malcolm Purkey

The Massachusetts 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 it evokes.

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 or call


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