Theater Review - Shadow of the Hummingbird (CT)

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We meet Oupa, a grandfather, in a cluttered house in Southern California, exploring his unpublished journals courtesy of Paula Fourie.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 relationship. 


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.

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