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Review: 'Coming Home' at the Fountain Theatre

June 25, 2009 |  4:30 pm

Coming Home_1 (2) South African playwright Athol Fugard has long been hailed as one of the world’s most important living playwrights. The West Coast premiere of “Coming Home” at the Fountain Theatre showcases his artistry in an optimum production.

Laura Fine Hawkes’ meticulous set, a one-room hut in a remote South African village, plants us firmly in another world, where subsistence is a triumph of will. It is here that Veronica Jonkers (heart-breakingly matter-of-fact Deidrie Henry), a road-weary refugee from a hard life in Cape Town, has returned with her little boy, Mannetjie (Timothy Taylor).

Veronica’s old friend, mildly challenged farmer Alfred Witbooi (poignantly bombastic Thomas Silcott), gives her a hero’s welcome, and flashbacks with Veronica’s deceased father (Adolphus Ward) inform us that Veronica was the best and brightest in the village until she left some years back to pursue a singing career in the big city. But it soon becomes apparent that this is no triumphal homecoming but rather the last stand of Veronica’s sad life.

Director Stephen Sachs has elicited pitch-perfect performances from his cast, including Matthew Elam, who plays Mannetjie at age 10. In the denouement, Fugard blunders a bit, idiot-proofing the play’s themes and indulging in some obvious author-in-dialogue. His masterly contrast of simple lives and elemental struggle, however, is resonantly humanistic, and in keeping with that tone Sachs keeps things emotionally straightforward and laceratingly truthful.  When the battered Veronica sings for Alfred and the action flashes back to her youthful self at the zenith of hope and promise, the tragedy of one life is summed up and light is shed on the larger human condition.

-- F. Kathleen Foley

“Coming Home,” Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., Hollywood.  8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends Aug. 29. $25-$28. (Dark July 4.) (323) 663-1525. Running time:  2 hours, 20 minutes.

Photo: Deidrie Henry and Timothy Taylor. Credit: Ed Krieger.