By Michele Markarian
‘Statements After An Arrest Under the Immortality Act’ – Written by Athol Fugard. Directed by Jim Petosa. Presented by New Repertory Theatre, co-produced with Boston Center for American Performance. At the Blackbox Theater, Arsenal Center for the Arts, 321 Arsenal Street, Watertown, MA through March 3.
All affairs end, and most of them end badly. One or both partners are usually married, so the possibility of happily ever after is slim. In due time, affairs run their course and with any luck, both parties escape moderately unscathed. Unless the affair itself is against the law.
The stakes are high in Athol Fugard’s tense play, set in South Africa, during the Apartheid. A White Woman, Frieda (Eve Kagan) and A Colored Man, Philander (Michael Ofori) have been having an affair in the library where Frieda works. The affair is conducted at night, in secret, in the dark. The lovers share an easy compatibility. With Frieda, Philander, a school principal, is able to aspire to be more than is expected of him by his family and impoverished township; with Philander, Frieda is able to overcome her bookish, spinster – it’s the 1960s – lonely life. But the relationship itself is out of whack. Philander, married with a son, feels a responsibility to his village and his family. The things Frieda takes for granted – the availability of water, for one – he does not. Even the decision to have an affair is a greater risk for Philander – had she rebuked him, she could have easily pressed charges. There’s a symbiosis to their coupling – he provides her with affection, she provides him with an intellectual sounding board (“No vestige of a beginning, no prospect of an end”, Philander says, quoting James Hutton).
The affair appears to be at the breaking point, as the lovers’ forbidden contact has its limitations. Cultural differences are also taking their toll. As Philander and Frieda argue, a policeman (Tim Spears) bursts into the library, having been tipped off by a neighbor that A Colored Man had been seen frequently entering the building with his own key. It is here that the statements after an arrest under the immortality act begin, as the two are interrogated and their loyalties tested.
I have to start with Jeffrey Petersen’s remarkable set, which is the first and only thing you see when you walk into the Blackbox. Scores of mismatched chairs, presumably from the library, are arranged against the wall in an unwieldy horseshoe, providing a weighty backdrop for the tryst before it. Kagan and Ofori, who are nude throughout most of the show, have an easy chemistry, both physically and emotionally. Both are alternately bold and frightened about what they’ve embarked on, but never at the same time – when Philander is bold, Frieda is frightened, and vice versa. It is an interesting piece to watch, not just because the characters are interesting, but because there are so many layers to their dilemma. He’s married, she’s single. He’s from a poor village, she’s from privilege. She’s six years older than he is. Her need for him is more than he can give. His need for her has its place behind his responsibility to his township. And, icing on the cake, what they’re doing is actually illegal, not because he is married, but because of race.
Under Jim Petosa’s taut direction, the piece moves fairly quickly. But the vulnerability of the characters, beautifully played by Kagan and Ofori, will linger long after it’s over. For more information, go to: http://www.newrep.org/