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My Children! My Africa!

Athol Fugard's 1989 play about the struggle against Apartheid in South Africa receives a searing production at Signature under Ruben Santiago-Hudson's direction. logo
James A. Williams, Allie Gallerani, and
Stephen Tyrone Williams in
My Children! My Africa!
(© Joan Marcus)
Athol Fugard became one of the greatest playwrights in the world with a string of classic works detailing the fight against the apartheid government of South Africa -- such as Sizwe Bansi Is Dead and Master Harold...and the Boys -- but in his 1989 work, My Children! My Africa!, now being given a searing production by the Signature Theatre, Fugard displayed a willingness to criticize some of those freedom fighters whose side he had long championed.

The work is essentially a debate between two factions of the anti-apartheid struggle, one that advocated violence and disruptive boycotts, the other that wished to work peacefully from within to bring down the oppressor, and Fugard brilliantly frames his story as a literal series of debates set in the classroom of a high school debate team.

A number of speeches are directly addressed to the audience, and while the danger is that audiences can get lost in long stretches of Shavian didacticism, Fugard keeps things stirred up to a boil. Just when you think you've got your mind made up on one topic, another character steps in and pulls the rug out from under your preconceptions.

Equally importantly, the play's crackerjack director, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, peoples this discussion with three compelling performances that are impossible to dismiss. James A. Williams makes a powerful impression as Mr. M., an inspiring teacher stubbornly clinging onto unpopular, pacifist beliefs.

Stephen Tyrone Williams is electrifying as Thami, a bright young man awakening to the calls to political action, who transforms before our eyes from Mr. M's obedient student with a charming shrug to a fiery rebel with his fist raised high.

As Isabel, Allie Gallerani, a white Afrikaner girl caught in the crossfire isn't quite as connected to her role, but the chemistry between her character and Thami, even when they're reciting 19th-century Romantic poetry with their backs to each other, is riveting.

In addition, recordings of the great Bobby McFerrin punctuate these scenes with stirring vocal improvisations. And scenic designer Neil Patel underscores it all with an extremely effective backdrop of corrugated iron, barbed wire, and a single tree, stubbornly sprouting up through the rusted metal against all odds.

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