Love, beauty and the hummingbird
take center stage.
It is always an occasion, a
rare occasion when a great playwright decides to act in his own new
play....particularly when he hasn't been on stage in fifteen years. Such is the case with Athol Fugard. This 78
year old is appearing now through April 27 on Long Wharf's Stage II in a memory
piece entitled “The Shadow of the
Hummingbird.” Granted it is only one hour long, but packs plenty of
poetic language and philosophy into that time frame. It is dedicated to his grandson.
Directed by Gordon Edelstein,
who has produced two other Fugard pieces in the past few years, “The Shadow of the Hummingbird” is, except for a little boy, who
plays his grandson, Boba, a one-man musing on his life, Plato, his love of beauty
using the symbol of the hummingbird. This is quite a departure from his earlier
plays that exposed the world to what apartheid was in his country, South
Africa. His intimate and character -driven plays, thirty in all, brought to the
world's attention the vicious cruelties that were being promulgated against
people of color, and changed that world.
Safe to say that Fugard is looking back and, as he says, inward at this
stage in his life.
We meet Oupa, a grandfather,
in a cluttered house in Southern California, exploring his unpublished journals
courtesy of Paula Fourie. Eugene Lee has
filled the living room chock a block with a collection of books, many bird
posters, a large sailboat, a desk and a comfortable easy chair. Michael Chyboski lights the space, providing
a magical beam that serves as the hummingbird or its shadow. Fugard, dressed in a pajama-like outfit with
vest, reads selections from his various journals piled around the room, falling
down at one time, picking himself up and
careening to his chair, his refuge.
Then, his grandson arrives, I
do not know if he is played by Aidan or his brother Dermot, the gifted McMillan
twins. Boba is happy to be there, far from his stressful home. When he admits
he has not been doing his homework; his grandfather realizes that this is
wrong, but spends more time criticizing Boba's dad, who is his own son. They've
had some disagreement that have caused a real schism in their
But the main theme is the
shadow caused by the hummingbird. I thought I knew everything about Athol
Fugard; I met him early on in his association with Yale, where the late Lloyd
Richards, AD, beautifully directed his many plays. I never knew he was a birder. Yet this
inspired this play, which depicts a man in his final days determining that
beauty and love are the things that count. As a grandmother, I can understand
the joy he experiences when his grandson arrives and the sadness he feels when
he leaves. If this is not a fully-developed piece, “The Shadow of the Hummingbird” is a sweet remembrance of things
and shadows past.
Playing through April 27. On Long Wharf Stage 11.