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STAGE REVIEW

No Easy Answers in Thoughtful 'My Children!'

May 15, 1997|JANA J. MONJI | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

At the center of Athol Fugard's "My Children! My Africa!" is friendship that crosses racial boundaries and the prospect of hope. But the place is South Africa before the end of apartheid and hope is "as dangerous as hate or despair."

Lee Isenberg directs this moving and thoughtful presentation at the Lankershim Arts Center as part of the Community Arts Coalition's "It's All About Black and White, a Very Colorful Event" festival. His three-person cast fills the sparsely appointed stage with engaging exuberance and ultimate tragedy.

Two black men, teacher Mr. M. (Robert Clements) and his star pupil Thami (Leopold Lowe), living in the "location," and a young white woman Isabel (Sydney Bennett) from the township are drawn together by love of education and intellectual sparring. Mr. M. brings these two students together to win a local English literary competition that could mean a full college scholarship for Thami. Yet Thami's brewing disenchantment with the government and his disgust with Mr. M.'s passivity threaten to crush both Mr. M.'s dreams and his growing friendship with Isabel.

As in Fugard's "Valley Song," this play is mainly about the transformation of a young girl who shall go on, bravely facing a new world. Bennett is compelling as a precocious and impetuous girl, too brash and naive to understand the implications of her close associations with the two men. Clements is endearing as a nervous man who is haunted by seeing too many "wasted lives" and wants change by working within the system. Tragically, his authority is too firmly linked to the oppressive government. Lowe lets Thami's quiet anger swell into rebellion and confused loyalties.

Fugard gives no easy answers, challenging definitions of loyalty and righteousness. Isenberg skillfully fulfills the script's promise, bringing forth the glowing youth, the anguish of empty lives and the uplifting hope for the future.

BE THERE

"My Children! My Africa!," Lankershim Arts Center, 5108 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. Friday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 7 p.m.; May 22, 24, 29-30, June 5, 7, 13, 8 p.m.; May 25 and June 8, 2 p.m.; June 1 and 15, 7 p.m. $15. (818) 789-8499. Running time: 2 hours, 50 minutes.

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