Valley Song, the ninth of Athol Fugard’s demanding and artful plays to be produced at Celebration Arts, is his first post-apartheid work, and it touches the least upon the racial politics of segregation and colonialism. Instead, Valley Song focuses upon a generational clash that is played out unnumbered times the world over. Yes, the relationship of Abraam Jonkers (James Wheatley) and his granddaughter Veronica (Alena Ross) is complicated by the racial politics of South Africa, but the real conflict is between Jonkers’ traditional, homebound hopes and the young woman’s fame-and-fortune dreams.The play is carried by Fugard’s poetic language, which creates at every phrase the natural and rugged beauty of the Karoo Valley. But the agricultural life in Karoo, as it is throughout the rural parts of the United States, is disappearing quickly—so quickly that Jonkers can’t quite grasp it. Young people leave, whether from rebellion (as his daughter did) or in search of the opportunity for which his granddaughter longs.
Wheatley’s performance was hesitant in spots but had all the intensity he usually brings to his roles. And Ross, a senior at St. Francis High School, brings a fresh, full voice to the songs. The only real problem was the lighting; glitches plagued the opening-night performance, making the actors’ work that much harder. Hopefully, these difficulties will be quickly resolved.