Exits and Entrances

Exits and Entrances
a kate west review
by Athol Fugard
directed by Simon Levy
at the Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Avenue, Los Angeles (near Normandie)
May 13 – July 25, 2004; Call (323) 663-1525 or www.fountaintheatre.com

Known for writing powerful plays that expose the damage to humanity and its far-reaching effects caused by apartheid, Athol Fugard presents the world premiere of his newest play, “Exits and Entrances,” at the Fountain Theatre in Los Angeles. It explores the relationship between two South Africans: an idealistic playwright and a famous actor. Based on the story of André Huguenet, the critically acclaimed and award-winning South African actor of the 1960’s, “Exits and Entrances” is a flashback to Huguenet’s extraordinary theatrical career, seen (in this version) through the worshipful eyes of his dresser-turned-playwright.

In this intimate two-person production, William Dennis Hurley plays The Playwright with appealing innocence and optimistic fervor, while Morlan Higgins does a nice turn as the actor genius, André, portraying him as a larger-than-life personality who ultimately comes to terms with his own humility. Both are extremely personable, in spite of the constant bickering between the characters.

The play opens with The Playwright reading André’s obituary and then taking us back to his heyday when he brilliantly plays Oedipus in the highlight performance of his career. Through a series of flashbacks, we watch the great André prepare for his role, while carelessly dispensing wisdom to the eager young Playwright. He regales him with flamboyant and extravagant tales of his youth and life which The Playwright avidly drinks in, filled with awe.

The final scene takes place several years later, after they have long ago parted ways and The Playwright discovers André in a production of “The Prisoner.” His more recent performance is so different from the regal and proud Oedipus, so much more nuanced and basely human, that The Playwright is compelled to visit him in his dressing room, not merely for old time’s sake but to commend him on a very moving experience. Both actors play this pivotal scene very well, illustrating the vast maturity and growth of both characters. Each has learned about harsh realities but has chosen to deal with life in different ways. André chooses a tragic, untimely end while The Playwright believes he can save the world. Each is a little bit right, but a little bit wrong too. The backdrop of the political atmosphere of South Africa is but a small reflection of the greater universal injustice rampant in the world. And yet there are also exquisite moments of beauty in art and the hope of the intellectual.

The language alone in Athol Fugard’s piece commands attention from the riveted audience. Director Simon Levy honors the words by staging the setting simply and perfectly, encouraging the actors to give understated, yet powerful performances. Judging from his other currently running production, “Master Class,” Levy understands how to make our giants human, while leaving their dignity intact. A fine production, “Exits and Entrances” merits a good run.

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