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Groundswell

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The aftermath is often the most excruciating aspect of war. When the dust settles, exposing the rubble, the real work begins. Governments may divide the territorial spoils, but individuals must negotiate their own spaces.

That private negotiation is the focus of Groundswell, South African native Ian Bruce’s intriguing and disquieting drama set in post-apartheid South Africa. Aptly directed by Kyle Donnelly, the production offers an uncomfortable look at the reality of race and class disparity not unique to its set country. Currently occupying the limited and confining Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre stage of San Diego’s Old Globe, the play showcases three men’s searches for personal peace. As the diamond mines were an integral part of both the oppression and the wealth of South Africa, it is no coincidence that they figure into the plot.

Although not a declared war in the usual sense, the social and political system labeled apartheid (Afrikaans for “apartness”) that held more than 80% of South Africa’s people hostage for forty-plus years devastated the nation and its souls. Its official ending in 1991 terminated the racial segregation and the punishing international sanctions. Nelson Mandela’s election to President several years later signaled only the beginning of an ethnic and economic reconstruction depending upon South Africa’s people.

Two of those people, Thami and Johan, inhabit Garnet Lodge, a beachfront resort on west South Africa’s coast; a third, Smith, drops in for a visit. Each man has his own approach to reconciliation, as well as his own share of responsibility. Each bears his own wounds, and none is ready to lay down all his weapons.

The resort caretaker, Thami, could claim the most injury, yet holds out the most hope. A black man whose family was first ripped apart by decades of government-sanctioned injustices and is now struggling to salvage some means of support, Thami dreams of a house in his village, where he can be a man among his Khosa people, just living with his wife and children. Beautifully wrought and perfectly spoken by Owiso Odera, Thami is the essence of a displaced person whose search for meaning must end in a return to cultural and physical place.

His friend Johan, a former cop with a bad past and now a professional diver employed by diamond mines, has a different vision. Potently played by Antony Hagopian, Johan sees his and Thami’s future in a government-declared, homesteader-like act that offers depleted diamond mines to ordinary folks who can come up with the funds to purchase a concession. His body wracked by the effects of too many dives ending in the painful condition called bends and his mind twisted by trying to maintain a middle-class existence in a third world situation, Johan envisions a wealthy retirement with his pal, Thami, and their mutual business.

It is a dark and foggy night, full of tension and the sounds of a warning (and intentionally irritating?) sea bell when Smith, a retired banker looking for a golf course in this port town, arrives for a stay in the guesthouse. Ned Schmidtke portrays Smith’s entitled white man character precisely, but he needs more time with a dialect coach to avoid lapsing into Southern U.S. twang.

The unforeseen visitor inspires Johan to make a plan for financing the concession that will liberate him and Thami from their current financial doldrums. He will convince Smith to invest the funds and become a partner, and the trio will reap the spoils.

Unfortunately, Smith is much more pessimistic about the venture than the others, labeling it a government scam and immediately tweaking Johan into vicious mode. Alternating between aggressive physical threats and equally brutal blame-game guilt-assignment, Johan forces a showdown that dissolves the alliance he thought he had. He launches into a (too long) diatribe full of accusations against Smith, a businessman who benefited most obviously from apartheid. In demanding that Smith compensate Thami for white domination, Johan declares that white South Africans fear their black compatriots, a truth that accounts for the “white flight” of the mid 1990s and the current uneasy cultural climate of the country. The absence of war does not mean peace comes to all its citizens.

The anticipated groundswell did not, and does not happen. None of the men wins this battle, but maybe one of them, like the peacemaker president, retains his honor.

"Groundswell" by Ian Bruce plays at the Old Globe’s Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre through April 17.
Performances: Tues-Weds at 7 p.m.; Thurs-Sat at 8 p.m.; Sun at 7 p.m. Sat & Sun matinees at 2 p.m.
Tickets: $29-$67, with discounts for full-time students, patrons 29 and under, seniors and groups.
Reservations: online at www.TheOldGlobe.org, by phone at (619) 23-GLOBE or at the box office, 1363 Old Globe Way in Balboa Park.
Reviewer January Riddle served in South Africa as Educational Resource Specialist in the U.S. Peace Corps from July, 2002 to October, 2004.

 

Spotlight

Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”

ABOUT ELLEN RICHARD

Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.