by Laura Giannarelli
I am so excited to be working with such a great cast to bring Athol Fugard’s A LESSON FROM ALOES to life in 2016. When I was approached by Artistic Director Jack Sbarbori about directing again at Quotidian, and he suggested this play, I went to my bookshelves to re-read it. It had been years since I had seen the play or read it. I recalled Arena Stage’s wonderful production of it many years ago, and how moved I was at the time by the story of the play and the playwright’s ability to shine a light on the horrors of apartheid. All these years later, I was concerned that, as apartheid has officially ended in South Africa (even if the country still struggles with the aftermath of so many years of corrosive bigotry), the play might be less relevant than when Fugard first wrote it. On the contrary! It is heartfelt and as engrossing as it was when first produced in the United States in 1980.
Athol Fugard’s A LESSON FROM ALOES is a play that stands the test of time. In fact, it feels to me as if it could have been written yesterday. While it is set in a very specific time and place, Port Elizabeth, South Africa in 1963, its themes transcend the circumstances of life in that time period. The three characters wrestle with very human tensions and emotions, the same feelings that affect people all over the world: friendship, trust, love….betrayal, fear, doubt. The Afrikaner Piet and his friend Steve are brought together for a farewell dinner Piet and his wife have prepared, before Steve emigrates to England, never to return to South Africa. Their friendship is challenged in ways both specific to the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa at the time and universal. Piet no longer sees his former colleagues in the movement, and Steve has been imprisoned and tormented while in custody. Piet’s wife Gladys has suffered collateral damage because of her husband’s participation in the movement; their marriage is profoundly affected by what happened prior to the start of the play. As the play unfolds, we learn just how deeply all three individuals have been hurt.
We can all identify with these three characters. Who has not had the seeds of doubt and fear planted in his/her mind, and never been able to totally neutralize the acidic effect on a relationship? Fugard’s play is more intense, perhaps, than what we are used to in our more peaceful day to day lives in America, but the playwright’s brilliance allows us to empathize with the plight of these three fragile yet resilient souls and experience along with them for a couple of hours the tragedy of South Africa’s divisive past.
I am confident that our wonderful cast and I will bring A LESSON FROM ALOES to vibrant life in the Quotidian Theatre Company production.
A LESSON FROM ALOES April 29 – May 29, 2016 at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda. Tickets are available now
Giannarelli most recently directed QTC’s remarkable 2014 production of Brian Friel’s FAITH HEALER, another three-actor drama that also featured company member Laura Russell.