Can there be peace in disharmony?
There can in the theater, especially when the audience in the hands of the gifted playwright Athol Fugard, whose 1989 finely-chiseled masterpiece of a play, “My Children! My Africa!” opens on Nov. 17 at the Park Square Theatre in St. Paul.
Set in 1984 South Africa, during the throes of apartheid, the three-hander presents a trinity which, if not exactly unholy, is definitely disharmonious.
On one point of the triangle is an aged schoolteacher who has pinned his hopes and dreams of a better world on a brilliant young male pupil, who stands directly in his line of verbal fire. Amongst other things, they debate whether violence is ever the correct way to respond, not just to the madness around them, but under any circumstances.
Completing the final point on the theatrical grid is a girl from an all-white school in the area; when she engages in debate with her contemporary (Fugard’s dramatics dictates that they’re being primed for a state literary competition), the triangle sets off a wheelhouse of sparks.
Passion, ideas, and words, it seems, are as dangerous as the physical violence. Or, rather, they can be. Fugard uses poetics, polemics, and prose to bring his theatrical conceits to vibrant life.
Violence as a response, as opposed to education (let alone any sort of poetic beauty), forms the core of the play, which is plotted out with as much care as the various political and personal plotting going on in South Africa during those awful years.
It was a small, two-inch headline in the newspaper, which reported the death of a rural teacher by horrible means, which inspired Fugard to write the play, and his passionate dramatic fire led him to later reflect that “putting words on paper is a valid form of action.”
Those words, he said, can get inside the heads of those who commit such atrocities as the play depicts, and once there, they can change hearts and minds.
Park Square, which has a long and distinguished career of presenting top-notch theater, is sure to create a bold masterstroke with a piece created by a true master of the form.