This Week in New York Insider's Guide to Arts & Culture in New York City Since 2001

4Jun/12

MY CHILDREN! MY AFRICA!

Athol Fugard play looks at growing unrest in South Africa and the call for liberation over education (photo by Joan Marcus)

The Pershing Square Signature Center
The Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre
480 West 42nd St. between Tenth & Eleventh Aves.
Extended through June 17, $25 through June 10, $75 after
212-244-7529
www.signaturetheatre.org

The year of Athol Fugard, who will turn eighty on June 11, continues with the captivating My Children! My Africa! Following the Roundabout production of The Road to Mecca and the Signature revival of Blood Knot, the latter is now also staging the South African playwright’s 1989 work, set five years earlier in an Eastern Cape Karoo town soon to be under siege. A white teenager named Isabel (Allie Gallerani), who comes from a wealthy family, is debating Thami (Stephen Tyrone Williams), a black teen, about women’s rights, specifically regarding education. The battle takes place in a classroom run by the inspiring teacher Mr. M (James A. Williams). Impressed by each of their performances, Mr. M asks them to team up for a public contest on nineteenth-century English poetry, an idea to which they both heartily agree despite the rare mixing of the races. But their training sessions are soon interrupted by growing unrest in the Location, where black students are preparing to march for liberation over education, pitting Thami against both Mr. M and Isabel, although for different reasons, leading to a surprising and shocking climax. Echoing the simmering anti-Apartheid movement that would soon explode, My Children! My Africa! serves as a microcosm of that revolutionary moment in time, in which the younger generation fought with the older generation and whites and blacks were enemies. Directed by Tony Award-winning actor, writer, and director Ruben Santiago-Hudson and featuring interstitial music by Bobby McFerrin, the play gives each actor the opportunity to deliver a long soliloquy directly to the audience, explaining who they are and what they stand for, without being didactic and obvious; the show often teeters just on the edge of clichédom but only crosses the line in the very last, wholly unnecessary scene. Otherwise, My Children! My Africa! is a stirring, beautifully acted examination of fading tradition, racial and class tension, and the inherent value of a good education.

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