Songs of joy
“You were going to run away! Just like your mama—just like Caroline did!”
“No, Opah,” the 17-year-old Veronica shouts. “I was going to tell you. I want to go to Johannesburg so I can take voice lessons—to make my voice stronger, so I can be a singer and have a beautiful house in the city with a huge garden for you to grow things! I want to do this to make you proud of me and to thank you for everything you’ve done for me all my life.”
“No!” Her grandfather will hear none of it. “You were going to run away just like your mother, and the same thing will happen to you! You’ll die just like she did and then …”
“No, Opah! I swear!”
The quiet is deafening as the young woman is pushed to the floor in a rage—her dream shattered and her heart broken.
Veronica longs to leave her small family farm in the Karroo Valley of South Africa and pursue her dream of a singing career. Her aging grandfather, Buks, in a misguided effort to keep her from the same fate her mother met when she ran away from home, is determined to keep her in the valley, where he can make certain she is safe. He has lost everyone he has loved—his daughter, his wife—the only things he has left are Veronica and the vegetables he so carefully plants and tends in the farm’s fertile ground.
Buks and Veronica are native Africans of mixed race. Their story is narrated by a character known as the Author, a white man who is buying the farm they have spent their entire lives working.
One of the many interesting twists of 1995’s Valley Song, the current production from the Actor’s Workshop of Sacramento, is the stipulation by its author, Athol Fugard, that the characters of Buks and Author must be played by the same actor—a white actor. Adding a simple set design, minimal props and appropriate lighting, all three characters create a vivid window into modern, rural South Africa.
Fugard, a Nobel Prize-winning South African playwright whose work deals with the political and social upheaval of the apartheid system in South Africa, was born in the semi-desert region of Karroo, South Africa, in 1932 to white parents. As he began his career as an actor and playwright, he found the system of apartheid prevented blacks from seeing plays by white playwrights. Deeply affected by the people he encountered, Fugard became one of the leading white South African apartheid activists, launching a boycott of South African theater by most English-speaking overseas playwrights, who refused to permit their plays to be performed there until apartheid was abolished.
In this production of Valley Song, Actor’s Workshop cofounder Ed Claudio tackles the dual role of Buks and the Author. Claudio brings unexpected life and powerful emotion to the character of Buks. In what may be considered delicate subject matter—a white man playing a native African man who still bears the scars of apartheid—Claudio manages to transcend race and prejudice to deliver an amazing, heart-wrenchingly emotional performance.
Local actress Erinn Anova tackles the part of Veronica in her first production with the Actor’s Workshop. Known for her work with the Sacramento Theatre Company and Celebration Arts, Anova shines in the role of the 17-year-old girl determined to dream big and to follow those dreams no matter what. Tackling difficult and often emotional scenes, Anova embodies the undying spirit of her character and brings her to life with unbridled enthusiasm.
Directed by Nancy Martis, with Anthony D’Juan, the cast and crew of Valley Song has created what is sure to be the best production offered by the Actor’s Workshop this season. Following a string a daring presentations including the female health-issue driven The Waiting Room, the Actor’s Workshop continues to mix classic theater with wonderfully daring and groundbreaking presentations.
Valley Song is a true taste of dreams and a better life for South Africans, as well as a reminder to all people to dream big and to never let go of those dreams—they might come true when least expected.