Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

As I Lay Dying

July 19, 2009

Thomas Silcott and Deidrie Henry
Photo: Ed Krieger/Fountain Theater 2009

The Fountain Theater in Hollywood continues its fruitful relationship with Athol Fugard this summer with the West Coast premiere of his latest work Coming Home following a run on the East Coast earlier in the year. Local theater goers again are the winners in this relationship as the Fountain continues to prove that small and high quality can go hand in hand. That being said, Coming Home is pretty much what you would expect at every turn. It’s a sentimental and melodramatic affair set in a rural South African village where a young woman, Veronica, has just returned home from Capetown with her 5 year-old son following the death of her grandfather. Soon we discover that her plans to become a famous singer there did not turn out as planned. She is greeted upon her return to her childhood home by the play's other major voice, Alfred, a somewhat cognitively impaired man who was a close childhood friend and a co-worker of Veronica's grandfather. Of course, Veronica has secrets, and soon her AIDS-related illness becomes evident to Alfred. She is concerned about other villagers discovering her secret and the future of her young son in a time and place where lack of access to medication means that she will not likely see him through to adulthood. The play more or less writes itself from there on out, but I will say that I admired Fugard’s attempt at an ending that was not strictly from the playbook. It didn’t completely work, and the touches of magical realism in the play don’t seem quite enough to make it seem like something other than an ending that is grafted on as opposed to one that naturally grows out of the preceding material.

Still, given that the material could fit easily into a typical dull major Hollywood film with ease, it is surprisingly effective in this production. I was never irritated by the big virtual neon road signs pointing out the evening's direction largely due to two fantastic performances from Deidrie Henry as Veronica and Thomas Silcott as Alfred. First off, these two managed completely believable and consistent accents. I know it’s a minor point, but if you’re going to do them, you should bother to do them right and I was exceptionally pleased that adequate time was clearly spent on this issue. Veronica's part calls for competent singing and Henry manages this easily. It's a really wonderful and heartfelt performance. Neither actor ever seemed forced or out of place, and the naturalistic feel of the piece came to fruition. Director Stephen Sachs' pacing is right on target as things never really drag even when it's obvious what is going to happen next. So, while it's not Fugard's greatest work, Coming Home is worthwhile and rises above its somewhat meager sights with excellent performances and high production values. Not bad at all. It continues on stage in Hollywood through August 29.


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