Theater review: Berkeley Rep’s ‘Coming Home’ is touching, sobering and wonderful

(l to r) At Berkeley Rep, Thomas Silcott, Kohle Thomas Bolton and Roslyn Ruff star in Coming Home by master dramatist Athol Fugard. Photo courtesy of kevinberne.com
In Review

Coming Home

4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5 out of 5 stars - 'Right on the Money'
Berkeley Repertory Theatre (Thrust Stage)
Directed by Gordon Edelstein
Starring Kohle Thomas Bolton, Lou Ferguson, Roslyn Ruff, Thomas Silcott, and Jaden Malik Wiggins
Written by Athol Fugard
www.berkeleyrep.org
Review by
Coming Home Berkeley Rep
(l to r) At Berkeley Rep, Thomas Silcott, Kohle Thomas Bolton and Roslyn Ruff star in Coming Home by master dramatist Athol Fugard. Photo courtesy of kevinberne.com

You might think AIDS and South Africa aren’t exactly a romantic combination for an enjoyable night on the town. But in Coming Home playwright Athol Fugard tells us a heartbreaking story with such patience, earnest and utter charm that we can’t help but walk out of the theater inspired, despite the sobering subject matter. It is a wonderful play.

Veronica (Roslyn Ruff) returns home to the farm, after chasing big dreams in the big city of Capetown. Her exuberant, optimistic childhood friend Alfred (Thomas Silcott) is ecstatic to have her back in the village, and welcomes her with open arms. There is plenty of reminiscing. And Veronica continues to dream of what might be—including her joyful, crowd-pleasing songs. Her sad secret soon comes to bear, and among the dimly lit shack she calls home with her son Mannetjie (Kohle T. Bolton and Jaden Malik Wiggins), revelations reverberate across the destitute land.

Pumpkin seeds, and a hidden treasure, factor in the search for hope. Oupa (Lou Ferguson), Veronica’s grandfather, returns to the farm in several flashbacks and dreams that can only be described as poignant. The words are magical. The interactions between him and Veronica, and little Mannetjie are touching.

What I really enjoy about this play is its gentle pace.

We need time to absorb their predicament. The suffering of the South African people washes subtly across us as we are drawn into the home of  this small family, trying to persist against all odds. It does put things in perspective.

I also appreciate that Fugard eschews clichéd bed-side death chats in favor of stoking the hope, dreams that might germinate in the country’s youth.

The acting in Coming Home is tremendous. It’s among the best I’ve seen in the last twelve months in the Bay Area. Thomas Silcott and Roslyn Ruff deliver their lines with ease, and conviction when needed. It’s understated and never forced. Equally impressive are the two young actors from Oakland making their professional stage debuts. Five-year-old Kohle Thomas Bolton and 11-year-old Jaden Malik Wiggins share the role of Manntjie and do a superb job, belying their youth.

Coming Home
Berkeley Repertory Theatre (Thrust Stage)
4.5 out of 5 stars
Written by Athol Fugard
Directed by Gordon Edelstein
Starring Kohle Thomas Bolton*, Lou Ferguson*, Roslyn Ruff*, Thomas Silcott, and Jaden Malik Wiggins
2 hours and 30 minutes, including one 15 minute intermission
Thru February 28, 2010
www.berkeleyrep.org

*Members of Actors’ Equity Association

Noteworthy
  • You could flip a coin, and either way enjoy a great evening of entertaining theater on Addison Street, albeit markedly different: Coming Home plays at the Thrust Stage, while the quirky, magical Aurelia’s Oratorio continues to play next door at the Roda.
  • Although there are no set changes in Coming Home there is at least one “how did they do that?” moment involving wall color and the passage of time.
  • Athol Fugard’s scripts have earned countless accolades, including an Academy Award, Obie Award and Tony Award.
  • The New York Times calls him, “the greatest playwright English since Shakespeare.”
  • Those interested in the plight of South Africa, should read the article in the program guide by Rachel Viola, “Sifting Through History, A look inside Africa.”
  • Madeleine Oldham reveals some statistics about HIV infection rates in South Africa (from 2007): 12% of the total population; 600,000 AIDS orphans; 30% of pregnant women; 33% of gay men; 1 in 4 people ages 15-49.
  • Make a donation. You can make a donation to support Haiti at the end of the show at the exit.
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