Fugard's 'A Lesson From Aloes' Ends Hartford Stage's 2017-18 Season

In February of 1961, South African playwright Athol Fugard jotted down in his diary an eight-paragraph description of an argument he’d witnessed during “a party at the flat of a Catholic woman.” The discussion, some of which Fugard deemed “poetic,” was between a “bespectacled, quiet-spoken leftist” and “a red-faced, big-handed Afrikaner.” It concerned apartheid; how these men felt both black and white citizens should deal with it; and the basic moral, ethical and political principles involved. The talk led to personal anecdotes involving friends and family.

This intense party chat stayed with Fugard, who referenced it later in his diaries and related it to the life stories of other people he knew. Ultimately he fashioned a play from these varied observations. The three-character drama “A Lesson from Aloes” premiered in 1980 at the Yale Repertory Theatre, where it starred James Earl Jones, Harris Yulin and Maria Tucci.

Now Darko Tresnjak is directing “A Lesson from Aloes” at Hartford Stage May 17 through June 10. It’s the final show of the theater’s 2018-19 season.

The play takes place in a backyard and a bedroom, in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, in 1963.

It’s set up as a gathering of three people: Piet Bezuidenhout, a disillusioned middle-aged liberal Afrikaner who raises aloe plants in his garden; his part-English, part-South African wife Gladys, who is recovering from a nervous breakdown after her diaries were confiscated by the secret police; and the couple’s friend Steve Daniels, an activist who is soon leaving South Africa for England.This production — the first major production of the play in Connecticut since it premiered 38 years ago — stars Randall Newsome (who’s had recurring roles on TV’s “Stan Against Evil” and “Star-Crossed”) as Piet; Andrus Nichols (Grace Cortland in the thater-themed TV series “Rise”) as Gladys; and the British actor Ariyon Bakare (Hugh Derry in the miniseries “Life,” not to mention the trooper Blue Four in the movie “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”) as Steve.

The talk ranges from heavy to light-hearted. “To the good old days,” Steve toasts. “If nothing else, they produced a few revolutionary hangovers.”

Fugard is one of the most produced playwrights in the history of Connecticut regional theater. Besides “A Lesson from Aloes,” Yale Rep premiered the playwright’s two best-known plays “Master Harold… and the Boys” and “The Road to Mecca,” as well as “Place With the Pigs,” all in the 1980s. Hartford Stage did “The Blood Knot” in 1976. Westport Playhouse had “Master Harold…” in 2002. The Long Wharf Theatre staged “The Blood Knot” in 1970, “Sizwe Bansi is Dead” in 1974 and “The Road to Mecca” in 1997, then joined up again with Fugard over the past decade for the premieres of “Coming Home,” “Have You Seen Us?,” “The Train Driver” and “The Shadow of the Hummingbird.”

A LESSON FROM ALOES plays May 17 through June 10 at Hartford Stage, 50 Church St., Hartford. Tickets are $25-$90. 860-527-5151 and hartfordstage.org.

Copyright © 2018, CT Now
54°