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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at 59E59 Theaters, New York

By Bill Stevenson

  (L to R) William Dennis Hurley and Morlan Higgins/Photo: James Leynse

It's hardly a surprise that Athol Fugard, now 75 and a playwright for 50 years, knows how to construct a play and write vivid characters. But his new drama, Exits and Entrances, proves that the South African writer also possesses a remarkable memory.

Set in 1956 and 1961, the 90-minute two-hander traces the relationship between the idealistic young Fugard( William Dennis Hurley) and the veteran Afrikaner actor Andre Huguenet (Morton Higgins ), then nearing the end of his career. They met during a Cape Town production of Oedipus Rex, in which Huguenet played the title role and Fugard (dubbed "The Playwright" in the program) appeared as an old shepherd. Then 24 and just starting out in the theater, the aspiring playwright also served as the 51-year old star's dresser. The two often ran lines together, allowing Fugard to insert passages from Oedipus. " Your concern for the printed word makes me fear for the worst," the hammy Huguenet says, before disparaging his protege's "literary ambitions."

Fugard neatly establishes the parallels between Huguenet and Oedipus. Both are vain and proud, and Huguenet -with his booming voice and florid gestures -was as theatrical off stage as on. Eventually we learn that the old actor doesn't have much of a life outside the theater. "The stage is my real home," he admits.

When the action jumps to 1961, we also learn that the production of Oedipus bankrupted Huguenet. His last role was in The Prisoner, and Fugard includes an overlong excerpt. Higgins does a fine job with the monologue, however, and he wrings every ounce of pathos from the juicy role. Hurley's part is less showy, but he lends able support throughout and comes to life with an impassioned speech near the end. Stephen Sachs' direction locates all the key moments, and Brian Nelson's lighting effectively shifts the mood from scene to scene.

Like all of Fugard's plays, Exits and Entrances is elegantly written and comments on Apartheid. Less powerful than Fugard's finest plays ( such as Master Harold...and the boys, Boseman and Lena, and Blood Knot), this memory play is nonetheless a touching portrait of a colorful, old-school actor who inspired a young forward-thinking writer even though his own glory days on the stage were quickly coming to an end.


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