In Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s upcoming production of Coming Home, two enthusiastic local children are enjoying their stage debuts. Five-year-old Kohle Thomas Bolton and 11-year-old Jaden Malik Wiggins share the role of Mannetjie, playing the plucky boy in two different scenes because the character ages over the course of the play. They are performing alongside – and learning from – accomplished professional actors: Lou Ferguson, Roslyn Ruff, and Thomas Silcott.
“We’re incredibly fortunate to have such extremely gifted young children in the show,” says director Gordon Edelstein. “Working with children is a unique challenge, but they bring an unforced innocence to whatever they do. In this beautiful play, in which children are the hope for the future, we’re so lucky to have Jaden and Kohle.”
Renowned playwright Athol Fugard explains the importance of these children to the plot of his show: “Many things went terribly wrong in the new South Africa: corruption, violence, the tragic denial of the AIDS epidemic. Yet, whenever I am back in the country, I find a thousand reasons to hope because the people of the country are just amazing – especially the youth. So, while this show contains a sort of sober reckoning, it still offers promise and possibility by way of the little boy.”
Kohle Thomas Bolton attends kindergarten at Grass Valley Elementary School in Oakland. His previous work includes ads for Gap.com, Melaleuca, and Shutterfly. He and his sister, Kashan, currently have recurring roles on the NBC television series Trauma. Jaden Malik Wiggins is a sixth-grade student at Oakland School for the Arts. He studied guitar last summer in UC Berkeley’s Young Musicians Program and plays bass for PopLyfe Band. With his family, he is developing a TV show called The PopLyfe Project. The understudies for these two young actors are 9-year-old Brandon Charles of Oakland and 12-year-old Victor McElhaney of Richmond. Time magazine calls Athol Fugard “the greatest active playwright in the English-speaking world.”
Now South Africa’s master dramatist comes back to Berkeley Rep with a new show: Coming Home. Ten years after running off to pursue her dreams in the city, Veronica returns in rags. Among her meager belongings, she carries a desperate secret – and determination to plant the seeds of a new life for her son. It’s a “sad, sweet, and gently moving” show, says the New York Times, “a beautifully acted production directed by Gordon Edelstein.” In Coming Home, the playwright once again confronts the hard truths of his homeland while celebrating the unquenchable power of hope.