The Theater of Voices 311.
(photo credit: Klaus Holsting)
The title of Fugard’s The Island refers, of course, to the infamous Robben
Island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years. John and Winston, named
for the actors who originally created and portrayed them, are both
black. John (Yoav Donat) has been sentenced to 10 years, Winston (Yossi
Tzabari) to life.
They are cell-mates, political prisoners incarcerated
on the island, subject to senseless, hard labor, humiliation and whatever else
can be devised to break their spirits. In their cell they come up with
stratagems to pass the time, like “calling home.” They rehearse a scene from
Antigone to be presented to the prison community. It is John who urges this;
Winston is reluctant. Then John learns his sentence has been reduced – almost as
arbitrarily as it was imposed.
On the face of it, The Island
indictment of South Africa’s former apartheid regime. Were it just that, the
drama would today be a period piece. But no, the clue is Antigone
, whose doomed
heroine takes on the might of the State, personified in Creon. The
, then, is certainly an anthem to the human spirit, but, like Antigone
(and here lies its enduring force), it is most deeply about oppressor and
oppressed, about the warping of the moral order, about the moral rot that is the
inevitable result, and certainly none of that has changed an iota –
That director Tiran, actors Donat and Tzabari are alive to the
drama’s real center is obvious. Against Niv Manor’s bleak cage of a set,
actors play their hearts out. They crackle. They are physical,
committed, but the characters’ essence has eluded them.
pain, anger, elation – all the gamut of human emotion – mostly stay on
surface, because what fuels the characters is their deep-down resolve to
on. Their desperation is all they have and it gives them the courage
This the actors have not internalized.