Presley Chweneyagae in Tsotsi
Presley Chweneyagae in Tsotsi
It's been a while since we've seen a new play by the great South African author Athol Fugard, but his presence is felt in the powerful film Tsotsi, written and directed by Gavin Hood and based on Fugard's novel of the same title. It was recently nominated for the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film (the awards will be presented on January 16) and is South Africa's official entry in the Oscar sweepstakes (this year's Academy Award nominations will be announced on January 31).

Once again, Fugard's subject is South Africa; and, once again, his heart goes out to the disaffected and disenfranchised. One of the reasons this movie is getting so much attention internationally is that it's a contemporary crime drama marked by taut pacing and hard-edged realism. The protagonist is a cold-as-steel young hood named Tsotsi, which translates as "thug." He's so tough that, when he's accused of having no feelings by one of his gang members, he viciously beats his cohort into a bloody heap. This opens a door into Tsotsi's past; in flashbacks, we see the little boy who grew up to be this coiled killer.

The film clicks into high gear when Tsotsi attempts a daring crime, stealing a rich man's car and shooting his wife in the process. It's only when he discovers the woman's baby in the back seat of the car that the humanity in the killer slowly emerges in a series of dramatically moving scenes. There is much to admire in this international co-production, including some very fine acting; but it's the story created by Fugard that finally makes Tsotsi work so well. It opens commercially in New York on February 24, and we urge you to see it.

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Garrett Neergaard and T. Ryder Smith in Apparition
(Photo © Aaron Epstein)
Garrett Neergaard and T. Ryder Smith in Apparition
(Photo © Aaron Epstein)
Better Late Than Never?

We recently caught up with two shows that are engendering a great deal of love-it-or hate-it reaction: Anne Washburn's Apparition, which ends its limited run on January 7, and the New Group production of Abigail's Party, which has been extended a second time through April 8.

Apparition is notable for some flashy stagecraft but, when all is said and done, it's a self-consciously arty piece of gothic frou-frou that adds up to absolutely nothing. Mind you, it's not boring; Washburn is no Edgar Allan Poe, but director Les Waters does a damned fine job of making you think she is. He is helped in the cause by dramatically expressive lighting courtesy of Jane Cox, precise sound design by Darron L. West, and set design by Andromache Chalfant that further adds to the ghoulish atmosphere. Still, there is no meat here, nor even any potatoes or vegetables -- just lots of sauce that's tasty but fails to fill you up. Like a lot of things in New York, this show gets by on its good looks.

In the case of Abigail's Party, we suspect it's not word-of-mouth that's selling the show. What's getting people into the seats are strong reviews, the presence in the cast of movie star Jennifer Jason Leigh, and the patina of playwright Mike Leigh. Unfortunately, the performance we saw brought forth one of the most tepid audience reactions we've ever witnessed at the end of a so-called hit play. While Barbara feels that the piece has merit as social commentary, Scott is right there with the audience. We both would like to note that we frequently see far superior shows play to half-empty houses. But hey, that's showbiz.

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[To contact the Siegels directly, e-mail them at siegels@theatermania.com.]