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Master Harold and the Boys
By Wanda Sabir, SF Bay View

Oakland Public Theatre and Second Wind Productions present "Master Harold and the Boys" by Athol Fugard, directed by Manu Mukasa, at Oakland Metro Theatre, 201 Broadway, near Jack London Square. Call (510) 534-9529 for tickets or visit www.oaklandmetro.org.

This production moves so seamlessly, it was as if I were witnessing the scenes for the first time, rather than for my fourth or fifth. After the great production at ACT a year or so ago, I didn't think it could get any better; however, this treatment gives me pause. Perhaps is the Metro Theatre - the physical aesthetic lends itself so well to the space - and the way actors Ian Walker and Norman Gee handle their characters, Sam and Willie. Between waiting for guests who don't show that rainy afternoon as they sweep the floor, polish the wood, set the table - feed and entertain Master Harold - the empty space becomes a dance floor, the café a ballroom, the foxtrot a metaphor for life.

The steps, perfectly choreographed, not only win one recognition, they're a way to maneuver one's way through the seemingly endless labyrinth of inconvenience - Apartheid, a political system that tries but doesn't succeed in robbing the two men of their optimism. The actors convey - especially in ensemble performance with actor Greg Ayers, the youth, Harold, who does despair, can't find his footing and is disqualified from the dance - how important it is to remember the rules so that one doesn't bump into the other dancers. Disturbances are not beautiful, collisions less so. In this world or altered state, the signs on the benches that tell Sam he can't sit in the park with Harold after he makes him a kite don't matter as much as the tie he has with the boy whom he looks upon like a son.

When the set opens, the youth stands outside the scene peering in on a world he participates in but chooses (that afternoon) not to belong to. Lights on the two African men, goofing around, Sam showing Willie the steps to a dance. Neither has money that afternoon to play a song on the juke box. Each man has his cross to bear, even Harold, with a crippled father who drinks.

"Master Harold" is a sad story. Set in 1950, it is both the story of a young man coming of age, as well as the valuable lesson that enemies don't change their stripes no matter how tenderly you bathe them. Tickets are $12-$14 sliding scale, $10 for students with ID. Shows are Friday through Saturday at 8 p.m., Sundays at 7 p.m. through Sept. 7.

More for Master Harold....
Robert Avila, SF Bay Guardian

Based on an incident from his childhood in the early days of apartheid, Atrhol Fugard's most personal play is also one of his most supple: the story of a fateful day in the relationship between a white South African teenager and the two black family servants who raised him; a damning portrait of a barbaric social system; a subtle and compelling exploration of the psychology of power; a meditation on parenting, the nature of social reform, and the role of education, and more. Not least, it;s a difficult play to get right. Happily, the fruitful collaboration between Oakland Public Theater and Second Wind Productions has resulted in a powerful, altogether impressive treatment that shows small theater at its best. On a stormy Port Elizabeth afternoon in 1950, Hally (Greg Ayers) falls to the temptation offered by his skin color to channel his own pain into the sadistic exercise of authority of the two grown men who are his best friends, Sam (Ian Walker) and Willie (Norman Gee). Director Manu Mukasa coaxes beautifully measured performances from his fine cast, capturing the humor, compassion, and unswerving honesty of the play, while building seamlessly to its wrenching climax and wistful, agonized denouement.

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The Stone Trilogy
Wanda Sabir, SF Bay View

Ian Walker’s The Stone Trilogy, three one-acts connected thematically, deserves more than a cliche commentary, so I won’t say that it was stunning, although it was, that and much more. The Stone Trilogy is a riveting, emotional journey that left me drained, yet full.

Good theatre repackages things that matter, especially three plays that could have easily stood separate, alone. Granted it was a long evening; however, the three hours passed rather quickly, no doubt due to the well-crafted script, superb cast, and the playwright’s direction. The catchy music that acted as the seams between scenes and set changes didn’t hurt either, whether it was an Irish folk song or Ladysmith Black Mambasa.

Erin’s Hope was clearly the more developed work, perhaps because it is the first play and existed all by itself before the other two were born. Set in New York, the story is of a loyal Irish family—a dad and a daughter who religiously collect money for the orphans back home, or at least that’s what Erin thinks until a stranger comes calling.

The strength of each of the plays is the relationships between characters—each has so much at stake. In Erin, Finn, who grew up fascinated with cemeteries for their history, finds himself caught in an ideological war he can’t win, while Erin surrounds herself with ghosts.

It’s hard to talk about each play in any detail without giving away its secrets, so I won’t but it’s rare to find such fine theater in a small place—all the more a shame that after all the work Walker, the cast, and the carious production staff put into the work, there was hardly anyone in the audience to appreciate it.

The evening I attended there were about 20 people, where 75 would almost fill the house. Situated just below Theatre Artaud, at 420 Florida at 17th Street, San Francisco, the theatre is almost underground.

Violence and healing are themes that run through all the plays, with dead bodies left unclaimed in each one, too—the body in the closer in Erin’s Hope, and unresolved conclusion, while the Afrikaner and South African man’s mutual dislike can lead only one place, despite the apologies, “truth and reconciliation,” etc.

Then in the final work, An Accident of Identity, one of the protagonists is dying slowly from a blotched surgery for a gunshot wound. “Accident” explores the dynamics between a terminally ill man and his lover, the politics of clinical trials and corporate medicine. Accident makes a case for “Jon Q.”

The ending is a little bit over the top. Uniformly, in each play, the endings were the places where the writing fell off, but not enough to detract from the overall wonder.

As I watched the ensemble shift from one culture to another, one place to another, one role to another, I was amazed at their ability because each character was so different— Walker’s world was one all of us could recognize even if we didn’t want to.

Take actor Christopher Slater, for example; he was a naive IRA messenger (Finn), a proud Boer (Lawrence), and a stone carver (Jonathon) whose friend is dying and he doesn’t know what to do.

The stones anchor the work. I found myself looking for them, whenever the plot slipped or someone was in trouble, because I knew it would help. I think I looked for the stones not necessarily to take home, but to have something to grab on—something to chew.

This Sunday there’s a matinee at 2pm. Call (415) 820-1460.

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Ghost in the Light Is No Fake
By Douglas Gordy, The Slant

With all the gay, gay gay theatre opening this month, you may wonder why I'm reviewing a show that has no ostensible relevance to our community, rather than one of thos other high-profile entries. First off, I am not so shallow as to believe that gay audiences can't relate or have no interest in a play if it does not feature queer characters or seemingly obligatory nudity. Secondly, I myself have burned out on way too much poor theatre that caters to such whims-- and if you crave such, copious info on those shows is practically unavoidable in other publications. And lastly, Second Wind Productions' intriguing new bio-play, GHOST IN THE LIGHT, is the kind of unheralded little gem that is likely to have escaped your notice without my diligent assistance! (Full disclosure: the playwright/director of the show,
Ian Walker is somewhat of a friend in that we see each other ocasionally at mutual friend's social events-- but he is not so close that I wouldn't tell him-- and more importantly, you, my reading audience-- if I thought his show was crap!)

Despite a few technical glitches on opening night, GHOST IN THE LIGHT, is anything but-- a compelling show focusing on the true-life tale of a little known Dutch art forger, Han Van Meegeren, who, unhappily slaving away in impoverished obscurity, found fame and fortune by forging "masterpieces" attributed to Vermeer and others... only to be suspected of collaborating with the enemy during WWII after most of his art works were bought up by the Nazis. The title refers both to a shadowy figure that Han was unable to erase from the under-painting of one of his pictures-- which thankfully allowed him to prove his innocence-- and also to the larger theme of unacknowledged talent flickering away without notice. Although the opening scenes of each act, including an extended flashback, could use some judicious cutting, the script itself contains some terrific writing, and Walker's large cast does well with his dense prose (aside from a few hurriedly flubbed lines here and there). In particular, John Whittle does a bang-up job, with some lovely nuances, as the tormented Han; Andi C. Trindle Walker matches him well as devoted wife Johanna; and diminutive George Frangides proves a dynamo as the Art Commission's investigator interrogating Han.

Presented in ahandsomely mounted production (with sumptuous, if somewhat anachronistic non-period costumes) at the intimate Traveling Jewish Theatre (at 470 Florida Street in The City), GHOST IN THE LIGHT is the kind of play that too often gets ignored in the shuffle, but is well worth seeking out for adventuresome theatregoers... and which I suspect may have a long life elsewhere after this initial production. The play runs throught June 9th.

Actors Reach Inside Riveting 'Blood Knot'
By Sandra Dillard-Rosen, Denver Post Staff Writer

Apartheid's destruction of the human soul is the subject of "The Blood Knot."

First produced nearly 30 years ago, playwright Athol Fugard's merciless examination of South Africa's system of racial separation-as seen by the effect it has on two brothers, one black and one white-is still relevant today.

The lengthy play makes demands on an audience. Two actors must carry the entire performance. In unskilled hands, it could falter and bore. But as performed by Tom Freeland as Morris, the white brother, and Ian Walker as Zachariah, the black, and under the tight direction of Marc Jenkins, it proves riveting.

In near flawless performances (despite minor opening-night mishaps), Freeland is the pony-tailed Morrie and Walker is the deceptively childlike and simple Zachariah, who nevertheless sees clearly and yearns deeply.

The two play perfectly off one another, effortlessly moving from moments of high comedy-an imaginary car ride is priceless-to deadly seriousness. Walker particularly has mastered the use of his entire body, mobile face and expressive eyes to show us a beleaguered black man in South Africa: dignified one moment, servile and apelike the next-even invisible.

"Blood Knot" is the story of a few weeks in the lives of two illegitimate sons of an ignorant black mother. Morrie, the son of a white father, has been "passing." But now, ridden by guilt, he has taken up residence with Zachariah, acting as housekeeper/servant in their little Port Elizabeth shack.

He also has set about "improving" the illiterate Zachariah, encouraging him to save the money he earns in his demeaning gatekeeper's job toward the purchase of a two-man farm, and teaching him to read and write.

The reluctant Zachariah, who was content with his previous life, carousing and womanizing with a friend, grows restless under all this improvement, so Morrie arranges a pen pal for him.

When the pen pal writes that she is coming to visit, Zachariah panics and encourages Morrie to toake his place, using their long-hoarded savings to buy "white" clothes for him. A scene in which Zachariah secretly tries on the "white" clothes is stunningly poignant.

When the pen pal cancels the visit, Morrie dons the "white"clothes and the brothers begin to play racial roles.

Tensions mount as the thin veneer of play-acting is stripped away and Morrie takes on the ugly attitudes of a white South African.

"Blood Knot" is presented by Second Wind Productions as part of Black History Month. An informal discussion with cast and crew follows each performance.

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South African play personalizes apartheid's effects
By Dianne Zuckerman, for the Camera


You'll be ignoring a whisper on the wind if you miss Second Wind Productions' The Blood Knot, and not merely because the performances are free.

Dedicated to presenting plays that address the black experience, Second Wind has come up with the winning combination of a compelling play by Athol Fugard, a white South African who is one of the best playwrights currently working; accomplished direction and design work by Marc jenkins; and excellent performances by Ian Walker and Tom Freeland, both familiar to local audiences from their previous appearances at CU.

 First staged in South Africa in 1961, then revised for a 1985 production in New York, Blood Knot is a parable of two brothers, one white-skinned, one black, who share a hovel on the outskirts of Port Elizabeth, South Africa. On one level this is a beautifully written story, part comedy, part wrenching drama, about two human beings yoked together in the harness of apartheid.

At the same time, their experience and anguish are a reflection of South Africa and society as a whole, and "brothers" refers to far more than simply two individuals sharing a common familial background.

From its opening moments, this is a carefully detailed production filled with convincing emotions and lilting South African accents. Warm lighting fills a shabby shack of rusting walls and crude furnishings as the light-skinned Morris (Freeland) the homebody, prepares for the arrival of Zachariah (Walker), the dark-skinned brother who works in town as a gatekeeper.

As the brothers enact what we soon learn is their nightly ritual, what emerges is a portrait of two very different men. And because of the obvious difference in their skin tones (there are allusions to two difference fathers), this carries wider implications about the way in which white South Africans have imposed their outlook and value system on the rest of their countrymen.

Unknown to his brother, Morris previously "passed" for several years in a distant city before being drawn back by his feelings for Zachariah and a need to discover his own identity.

Now Morris regulates their daily routine with a jangling alarm clock and looks to the day when their ascetic lifestyle and growing nest egg will allow them to purchase a small farm and escape their mean existence.

But while his brother willingly sacrifices today for the promise of tomorrow, Zachariah misses the pleasures of the present: music, a shared bottle with friends, the company of women. This triggers a search for a female pen pal for Zachariah, and there is plenty of humor as they pore over the newspaper ads. But things take a darker turn when the brothers discover they have mistakenly written to a white woman.

What follows is an emotional roller coaster ride as Morris gives Zachariah a painful and humiliating lesson about black men and white women, then allows himself to be seduced into the idea of meting the pen pal himself.

The final segment is a deadly "game" that has the two men poised on the edge of violence as they act out the traditional, degrading roles dictated by apartheid.

Jenkins has orchestrated the shifting moods like a conductor evoking all the right notes. He's wisely trimmed and compressed the overly long first two scenes, and also done delightful things with bits like a childhood reminiscence that has Morris and Zachariah jouncing along in a hair-raising fantasy car trip.

Thanks to the fine work by Walker and Freeland, we gain insight into what is buried inside both these men and why. What remains long after the play ends is the memory of two human beings whose fates are inextricably linked along with the sobering final words "We're tied together…. It's what they call the blood knot… the bond between brothers."

Thirty years after Fugard penned this line, there is a glimmer on the horizon that South Africa may be taking steps toward recognizing this bond.

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Down The Road Explores Our Culture's Voyeruistic Fascination with True Life Horror

By Charles Brousse for the Marin Independent Journal

For anybody who enjoys the kind of offbeat experience that only small, innovative theater companies can provide, these are very good times. San Francisco and the East Bay are literally teeming with them, and here in the North Bay we have two excellent examples: Petaluma’s Cinnabar and Santa Rosa’s Actors Theatre of Sonoma. While each company has its own artistic missions, all offer relatively cheap tickets, an intimate atmosphere and a willingness to take on commercially risky programming. In other words, if you’re looking for close-up theatrical adventure at bargain prices, this is where to go. But the rewards are not without downsides. Productions, often take place in cramped poorly ventilated facilities. Sets, lights, and costumes are minimal. (The low-budget credo: If it can be done on a bare stage, do it!) Casts, composed mostly of non-Equity actors, are unpredictable and the plays themselves tend to lack the refinement of those that have made their way around the major circuits. These contrasting attributes are clearly visible in lee Blessing’s dark drama “Down the Road,” which is being presented through Feb. 23 by Second Wind Productions at San Francisco’s Noh Space, part of the Theatre Artaud complex.

Founded in 1985 in Boulder, Colo., and then relocated to San Francisco last year, Second Wind has a goal that is rare in today’s bottom-line driven theatre world: to use the stage to explore social and political issues that impact ordinary Americans lives. “Down the Road” fits neatly into this category. Possibly influenced by the enormous success of Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood” and similar books, Blessing has his sights set on the growing practice of presenting serial killers in their own words to a public that is titillated even as it recoils in horrow. Is this ethical journalism? In some strange way, do the writers, agents, publishers and booksellers risk becoming unwitting (or witting) accomplices of the perpetrator? These are troubling questions and Blessing doesn’t shrink from giving us equally unsettling answers.

William “Bill” Reach (Ian Walker) is the convicted murderer of 19 women, one only 10 years old. His victims were slain for no apparent reason, their bodies sexually assaulted and dismembered before being dumped in the woods near the unidentified small town where both he and they lived. Incarcerated after being handed consecutive life sentences without possibility of parole, he is visited by a husband-and-wife writing team that has been commissioned to investigate the details of his gory deeds in preparation for a book on the subject.

While Irish Henniman (Andi C. Trindle Walker) is an experienced crime writer, husband Dan (Brian Leonard) previously confined himself to reporting on business matters. They move into a seedy motel—the best of a bad bunch on the town’s featureless main street—and begin alternating prison interviews, recording Reach’s responses on tape. As both begin to recognize that they are dealing with a true monster, doubts set in about the morality of publicizing his story, with all its sordid information about how he felt when he was stabbing bludgeoning or copulating with the severed head of one of his victims. Each retreats into rationalizations: Iris proposes to education the public by providing insights about why he went wrong; San wants to bring closure to the family of a missing girl not listed among the original victims by obtaining a confession that he killed her. Reach doesn’t buy any of this. With breathtaking clarity, he exposes the base motives driving all of them. His was a deeply felt need to stand out from the herd. Theirs is money, pure and simple, as is their publisher’s. Readers are looking for voyeuristic satisfaction. (Smugly, he reveals that he regularly received romantic letters from women.) All are bound together in a circle of evil, but he alone has the courage to admit it. Despite a loss of physical freedom, that gives him enormous psychological power.

It is a chilling indictment. While Blessing occasionally stumbles in his handling of the relationship between iris and Dan, his overall message comes through loud and clear. Second Wind’s production, directed by Christopher Slater, is generally up to the task although one might wish for a more consistent intensity from Walker in the pivotal role of Reach. Walker (who also provides excellent sound design) captures Reach’s menace during angry moments, but provides only glimpses of his insidious charm. Leonard and Trindle Walker play off each other nicely as the journalistic couple. The Noh Space is tiny, the air heavy and the scenery not much to look at. Par for the course in this engrossing evening of unusual theater.



Performing for a Multicultural World
(edited for Second Wind)

By Heather World

Second Wind Productions, which bills itself as "theater for a multicultural world," will mount The Merchant of Venice in repertory with an African American Shakespeare Company production at the Next Stage Theater in San Francisco. Seven actors will play all 21 roles in this multicultural version of a classic.

The three founders are Andi C. Trindle of San Francisco, Manu Mukasa, who will direct ACT's advanced training program in April, and Ian Walker, the creator and coordinator of an East Bay project that uses improvisational theater to help drug addicts in recovery.

Second Wind blew into town from Boulder, Colorado, and made its San Francisco debut last summer with Athol Fugard's My Children! My Africa!

They chose Merchant this year because "anti-Semitism has been a confusing and divisive issue in the African-American community for many years," according to director Walker. "The Merchant of Venice is a powerful vehicle for gauging similarities and differences between the Jewish and black communities."

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Two College Production Worth a Look
By Jackie Campbell, Rocky Mountain News Staff Writer
(Edited for Second Wind)

Two college productions are ending their runs this weekend. One is free, and boh merit more than passing mention in print.

Ceremonies in Dark Old Men is staged in the Old Main Theatre on the University campus in Boulder, but is the work of the off-campus group Second Wind Productions, which is not charging admission.

In Boulder, Lonne Elder's Ceremonies in Dark Old Men has been co-directed with searching clarity by Ian Walker and Marc Jenkins. The play was written in 1965 and seems to have grown richer with time. Its innter-city family with its tensions and loyalties, its temptations that beckon from the streets and its risks in trying to break the barriers of racism-all resonate in American society 20 years later.

The setting is Mr. Parker's barber shop with living quarters above. A daughter Adele is the wage-earner for the family. The 54-year-old Parker has had his day as a soft-shoe vaudeville performer. The mother of the family is dead, and the two grown sons are jobless. The dynamics for family tension are in place.

How do three bright, capable men maintain a sense of pride when their mother had died in domestic servitude? Or when they chafe under the indulgence of a daughter and sister? In Ceremonies, they all try.

The Second Wind production illumines the narrowing of the family's choices and its folly in choosing to side with a black gangster-activist. Alphonse Keasley is superb as Parker. Helena Haynes is lovely and sullen as Adele. The boys, Theo and Bobby, are feelingly portrayed by Abehjha Kibuuka and Jesse Carter. Oz plays the suave and steely activist Blue and Dawne Collins is ripe and sly in her cameo role of a prostitute.

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Boulder Company provides a forum for black actors
By Kathryn Bernheimer, Camera Film and Theater Critic

Robert Townsend found a solution to the black actor's dilemma-and exposed the problem at the same time-with this film "Hollywood Shuffle."

In Boulder, Second Wind productions has taken a similar approach in live theater, fulfilling a dual function of creating performance opportunities for local black actors and providing a forum for communication on the issue of race.

Originally founded by Michael James Brodie as Chinook Theater Group in 1983, and reorganized by Marc Jenkins and Ian Walker as Second Wind Productions, the theater company is dedicated to presenting plays that deal with the black experience.

"Plays that deal with the subject matter we're interested in aren't practical for most companies to put up," co-executive director Jenkins explains. "It's difficult for universities or community theaters to produce black plays when they have so few black actors.
"There's a fuzziness in society right now around the issue of race, and we want to deal with that. There are so many good black theater pieces that people don't even know. To me, theater that is more relevant to my personal experience is more exciting."
"As performers, since we weren't doing the things we want to do, we decided to put on plays and put ourselves in them," Walker adds.

Tonight, Second Wind Productions opens with South African playwright Athol Fugard's "Sizwe Bansi Is Dead" at the Old Main Theater on the University of Colorado campus. Following the three night run, a benefit for Boulder Attention Homes, the production will tour 12 local schools. The tour is sponsored by the CU Outreach Council. The company originally wanted to produce the play next weekend to coincide with Juneteenth, a celebration of black independence, but scheduling conflicts forced them to perform a week early as sort of a warm up act for the holiday.

"We've had good response to Fugard in the past," Jenkins says. "He's a white playwright, but we're more interested in the subject (in this case, apartheid and the passbook system that restricts the movement of blacks in South Africa) than in setting up a black fraternity. John Sayles (a white director), for example, has a very interesting perspective in 'Brother from Another Planet.'" We work with a variety of playwrights.

Walker plays the photographer/narrator, Stiles, in the play, and Brodie, who continues to work with the company he founded, plays Sizwe Bansi. There is no one director, as the company prefers to work collaboratively.

"At rehearsal, there's usually a director for the night, dictated by who's onstage. Sometimes we work around the idea of one director, but with a lot of feedback," Walker says.

"Part of what creates a good artistic product is the way people work together," Jenkins interjects. "It seems to work better for us when we treat each other as friends and colleagues, with respect. The genesis of a show usually starts with one individual, who wants to do it, and who finds the cast and produces it."

Walker chose "Sizwe Bansi", he says, "because I couldn't get around the beauty of the writing and the educational value of the play itself."

The company's next production, to be mounted next spring, will be "Ceremonies in Dark Old Men," by Lonnie Elder, a play Jenkins directed as a class assignment at CU last year.

"That's one of the plays people don't know or have trouble with," Jenkins says. "I had to convince my teacher to let me do it."

"It's an uphill battle proving that black theater is legitimate. It's a real challenge for us to do it well enough that the quality of the material is obvious. Sometimes we get frustrated that people don't appreciate (black theater) enough, but we have a supportive audience in Boulder."

"There may not be a lot of people put on these plays," Walker adds, "but at least when they are put on people come. There are only two black theater companies in the state, and one of them is in Boulder, which, per population of blacks in the community, is actually very good."

"The situation is dismal in general in the country," Jenkins says. "A lot of people think black theater doesn't even exist. But at least it's not impossible for us to exist here."

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