The Pershing Square Signature Center
The Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre
480 West 42nd St. between Tenth & Eleventh Aves.
Through March 11, $25
It’s rather ironic that the Signature Theatre Company chose to open its sparkling new $66 million Frank Gehry-designed facility with a play set on a makeshift stage scattered with detritus, including rotting mattresses, sans backdrop, as if someone forgot to clean up the remaining debris from all the construction, or like a garbage barge pausing in the middle of a beautiful river. Written and directed by South African playwright and actor Athol Fugard, Blood Knot is running through March 11 at the Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre, one of three theaters in the stunning new Signature Center on West 42nd St. Set in 1961, the year it was first produced with a single performance in Johannesburg, the two-man show features Tony nominee Colman Domingo (The Scottsboro Boys) as Zachariah and Obie winner Scott Shepherd (Gatz) as Morris, two brothers living in a dilapidated shack in the poor section of Korsten, a suburb of Port Elizabeth. Morris, who is extremely light-skinned and can pass for white, has been saving money so the two men can buy a farm someday. Meanwhile, Colman toils at a degrading job, coming home exhausted and angry, arguing over the bath salts Morris puts in the hot water in which Colman soaks his tired feet. After Colman complains about how lonely he is for a woman, Morris suggests that he find himself a female pen pal in the newspaper, but things go haywire when the white woman suddenly decides to pay a visit.
Blood Knot takes on apartheid without ever getting overtly political; Fugard imbues the taut drama with smart dialogue that relatively subtly lays out the inherent racism of South African society, using the two brothers’ hopes, dreams, and fears to reveal the vast separation between white and black. Shepherd is outstanding as Morris, speaking elegantly of a future they are extremely unlikely to ever experience. Domingo is big and bold as Zachariah, generally projecting too theatrically but still cutting an impressive, powerful, yet sympathetic figure, particularly in a moving soliloquy in the second act. Fugard, who has often appeared as Morris (usually opposite Zakes Mokae, including on Broadway in 1986 — J. D. Cannon and James Earl Jones played the siblings off-Broadway in 1964), directs with a smooth hand that erupts at the surprising conclusion. Blood Knot is a splendid start to the Signature’s Residency One: Athol Fugard Series, which will continue with My Children! My Africa May 1 – June 10 and The Train Driver August 14 – September 23, in addition to the current Broadway production of The Road to Mecca, a collaboration with the Roundabout. There will also be postperformance talkbacks with the cast and crew on February 23 and March 1 and a preshow discussion with one of the show’s designers on February 29. Tickets for all seats for all shows at the Signature are a mere $25, an amazing deal that should not be missed.