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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
" The girl that was is dead," says an older and sadder Veronica in the midst of Fugard's latest play, the ironically titled Coming Home. "That girl was a fool" says a bitter Veronica (played at the Fountain Theatre by Deidrie Henry) as were any who bought into her dreams of escape and maybe fame.
Veronica has returned from Cape Town to the single room shack in the Karoo once shared with her grandfather (her "Oupa") Abraham "Buks" Jonkers. She has brought with her a son, Mannetjie (played at age 5 by Timothy Taylor and at 10 by Matthew Elam). And she has brought a sickness that, even in 2002, her country doesn't possess a stellar track record of treating.
Fugard's plays are neither long nor plot heavy. The first act of Coming Home, directed by the playwright's frequent West Coast collaborator Stephen Sachs, is devoted largely to scene and character establishment and to a flashback encounter between Veronica and Oupa (Adolphus Ward) in which we witness a still healthy Veronica singing, amidst a bank of disco lights (designed by Christian Epps). Waiting Penelope-like in the village is Oupa's kind but simple apprentice Alfred Witbooi (Thomas Silcott), who would all but lay down his life for Veronica. The illiterate Alfred wants little more out of life than a new red bicycle, but he nonetheless factors significantly into Veronica's plans for the future. Mannetjie, who is smart like his mom, thinks Alfred is a buffoon which Alfred isn't too dim to notice.
If, as the playwright claims, there is still a flotation device of hope in this sea of wreckage, then Alfred Witbooi is that unlikely life preserver. As is Mannetjie. A pair of mirroring scenes between Silcott and Henry and then between Silcott and Elam are laced with rage and bitterness, with Silcott's Alfred largely on the receiving end. Silcott, who played the less pivotal servant Willie in a wonderful production of Master Harold. . . and the Boys at the Colony) is a deep well of love, devotion, piety — and maybe even a little bit of pride. That the play shifts ever so delicately away from Veronica and toward steady Alfred, from darkness back to light, is a testament to Fugard's skill.
This is not to knock the fine work turned in by Henry who delivers both a mother's tenderness and protectiveness with layers of personal regret (to say nothing of a gut wrenching cough). There are unquestionably traces of the young Veronica Jonkers in Henry's enactment and, sick though she is, we are certainly pleased to see her revisited.
Ward has an earthy and wise turn as Oupa (a role once played by Fugard himself) who knows a few things about the planting of seeds and the care needed to make them bear fruit. Oupa kept those seeds in a special tin. That same tin gets passed on to Mannetjie who uses it to hold the vocabulary words he is learning. The boy wants to write. As Athol Fugard proves time and again, there are certainly worse ambitions.