Boesman and Lena
They trudge in wearily on bare, muddy feet while carrying their belongings—old, discarded junk—in sacks or boxes. They’re homeless, setting up a forlorn campsite onstage. Lena has bruises over much of her body, and she cowers when her man scowls. Boesman is short-tempered and becomes more so as he gets into a bottle of wine; he even threatens Lena with a stick. And, from her reaction, it’s clear she’s been struck many times before.
That’s the setup for Boesman and Lena, which is this year’s installment in Celebration Arts Theatre’s long-running exploration of the plays of South African writer Athol Fugard. The project is now in its eighth season, and it’s become unique and quite rewarding—there’s really nothing else like it in Sacramento. (Miracle of miracles, Celebration Arts also does it on a shoestring budget.)
Each show in this series has been intense; Boesman and Lena is perhaps the bleakest. But this play is akin to William Kennedy’s prizewinning novel Ironweed, which also was about down-and-out losers. There’s something compelling about these people that keeps you riveted to the story despite their misery.
Lena (Lisa Tarrer Lacy, in a powerful performance) recognizes the mess she’s in and delivers some long, potent speeches drawing on her sense of injustice. Lena is a big part that demands a lot from an actress, and Lacy makes the most of the opportunity. You won’t forget her.
James Wheatley, as Boesman, is downright mean—quite a transformation from the mix of smoldering righteous anger he displayed in Master Harold. Wheatley’s tight little laugh, almost a bark, takes on a nasty edge; it’s little wonder that Lena doesn’t want to join him when he huddles in their makeshift shelter.
The situation changes when a stranger wanders in. Lena calls him “Outa.” Actor JG Gonsalves does the stranger’s lines in the Xhosa language. Ailing and close to death, Outa’s plaintive, soft-spoken lines contrast with the otherwise combative dialogue.
No director is credited; Lacy originally was scheduled to direct, but she decided to play Lena instead, so the three actors worked out the details and staging by consensus.
All told, this production clocks in maybe a half-step behind Celebration Arts’ Master Harold, which was darned-near perfect. But Boesman and Lena outclasses everything else on local stages at present. It’s highly recommended