What’s the most noteworthy theatrical series in Sacramento? That would be the one at the Celebration Arts Theatre, an annual production of a play by South African writer Athol Fugard. This project, which has been quietly under way for about a decade, is unique in the region for its longevity and quality. Fugard’s preoccupation with race and inequality reflect on our own place and time. The best shows—Master Harold … and the boys, Boesman and Lena, Sizwe Banzi is Dead and Blood Knot—have been among the local highlights in the years they were staged.This year’s installment, The Island, sustains the honorable tradition of its predecessors. Like the others in this series, it’s a “small” play. Actually, it’s one of the smallest, with only two characters and lasting barely 80 minutes.
But there’s plenty of content. The characters, Winston and John, are black men locked up in South Africa’s notorious Robben Island prison for political reasons. Much of the “action” (we use the word advisedly) consists of numbing confinement in a tiny cell, where they discuss their meaningless, backbreaking work in a quarry; vent their frustrations; and discuss what they’ll do when they’re released (sex and alcohol, ASAP).
These two prisoners are also educated men. They decide to stage part of an ancient Greek classic, Sophocles’ Antigone, in a prison talent show. Of course, Greek tragedy always makes a statement. You can guess the rest.
Actors Romann D. Hodge and Rob Anthony are literally sweaty and intense. Ron Dumonchelle’s lighting is suitably gloomy. Director Angela-Dee Alforque brings out the cruelty, pain, inspirational resistance and absurdity of the story.