We in the theater are prone to exaggeration. A good play gets called brilliant, a so-so performance gets called a disaster, and a minor incident becomes an epic crisis. But even knowing this tendency, I feel no hesitation in sharing with you what director Gordon Edelstein said at the first rehearsal for The Road to Mecca. “Athol Fugard,” he stated, “is a playwright whose work genuinely changed the world.” Honestly, that sounds pretty accurate to me.
We often think of political playwrights as those who write angry screeds and twist them uncomfortably into drama, leaving the audience to be lectured at for a couple of hours by characters who are mere mouthpieces for the dramatist. Or perhaps we think of political plays as epics, taking on a wide swath of characters and events to squeeze as much as possible onto the stage in one evening. But Athol Fugard defies these trends. Yes, he writes about his native South Africa, and most of his work takes place against the backdrop of apartheid with characters facing racial bias, segregation, and the AIDS epidemic. But rather than yell at the audience or try to put all of his views on stage at one time, he has slowly built up a body of work that is both fearless in its politics and stunning in its emotional impact.
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2011-2012 Season, From Todd Haimes, The Road to Mecca