Coming Home at Fountain Theatre

In 1995 audiences were introduced to Veronica Jonkers, a headstrong determined young woman from South Africa who leaves her humble farmland to pursue big city dreams of becoming a singer in Athol Fugard’s Valley Song. 14 years later we are reintroduced to her as she returns home for good with a child in tow. Fugard’s latest play is a sweet, quiet, and deeply affecting play that reflects the sentiments of the playwright about his homeland, South Africa, but told in a story about failed dreams, determination, and acceptance.

When the play’s protagonist Veronica Jonkers left for Cape Town to pursue a musical career, her action echoed the hope of a post-Apartheid South Africa. “As the years have passed,” said Fugard in an interview, “I have seen the dreams start to wither. It just seems to me, at this moment in South Africa’s history, I needed to follow up and take a look at that big dream that we had.”

And that dream is a sobering wake up call reflecting the hard truths of his homeland-a place, where even the most basic of healthcare is denied to the poor.

The play is set in 2002. Veronica (Deidrie Henry) returns to her now deceased grandfather Oupa’s (Adolphus Ward) humble shack of a home – wonderfully and realistically rendered by set designer Laura Fine Hawkes – that has been under the care of her childhood friend, Alfred (Thomas Silcott). There she hopes her five-year-old son, Mannatjie (Timothy Taylor) will warm up to the place and that she can pick up where she left off. But she carries a secret with her and a plan that involved her simpleton best friend who’s only aspiration in life is to own a red bicycle.

Jump forward four years later and the three are struggling to become a makeshift family at Veronica’s behest – though her now ten-year old Mannatjie (Matthew Elam) has much contempt for Alfred and may well have surpassed his intellectual level. Still, Veronica’s plan to secure her son’s future is the only thing that is keeping her going.

Fugard is keen on chronicling the state of his homeland in his plays. In Coming Home, the political issues brought to the fore are not imposed upon, but are clearly stated in the way they affect the daily lives of his characters. Veronica and Alfred remain stark contrasts to how dreams play out in a political context: Henry’s impressive singing attests to Veronica’s deeply rooted desire to make it on her own and the level of success she is capable of; while Alfred’s less lofty goals perhaps shielded him from the harsh realities of life. In any event, and in part by the careful and nuanced direction of Stephen Sachs, the play never becomes overwrought. It also maintains an ever-present theme of Veronica’s hope, especially with her son’s talent at writing, which acts as a symbol of her upbringing full of stories from his grandfather and her own need to keep her memory alive within her own son.


Cabaret at the Met Theatre

When referring to Kander and Ebb’s 1966 musical, Cabaret, it is difficult and almost impossible not to mention its 1972 movie version directed by legendary choreographer, Bob Fosse, and starring Tony, Oscar, and Emmy winning Liza Minnelli. And while that film has been a success, the original stage production is far more entertaining than Fosse’s film concept.

However, it is the film’s iconic signature style that most people associate with the musical. In the film, Fosse made some changes by segregating the musical numbers from the storyline and dropping a sub-plot. Still, it managed to win the Academy Award that year (among the eight, the honor went to both Fosse and Minnelli.)

In 1998, Sam Mendes and Rob Marshall reinvented and revived this musical-incorporating some musical numbers that were written for the film into the stage production and taking on a much darker tone than in the original production.

Now, the Musical Theatre of Los Angeles in association with Canary Productions has successfully mounted a wonderful production of “Cabaret” at the Met Theatre.

Even before the show starts, the theater is transformed into the Kit Kat Klub with the Kit Kat Boys and Girls serving cocktails and flirting with the audience. Once the show starts, though, it is pure delight from start to finish.

Cabaret is set in Berlin, 1931, on the eve of the Nazi’s rise to power. Based on the play by John Van Druten from the stories by Christopher Isherwood, the events center around a seedy night club overseen by the ever present Emcee (Eduardo Enrikez) where British cabaret singer Sally Bowles (Kalinda Gray) works. There she meets and begins a relationship with a young American Writer named Cliff Bradshaw (Michael Bernardi).

At the same time, Bradshaw’s German landlady, Fraulein Schneider (Annalisa Erickson), begins a doomed romance with Jewish fruit vendor, Herr Shultz (Jayson Kraid).

The strength of this production is clearly evident in director Judy Norton’s and choreographer Tania Possick’s incorporation of elements from both the film and the Mendes/Marshall production.

There’s a little bit of Fosse in the choreography (Mein Herr in particular) as well as some inspired original musical numbers that keeps the show light and funny throughout. But the more serious subplot involving the Nazi rise to power is handled with pathos by both Erickson and Kraid in their tender interpretations of their characters.

Gray may not have the best voice for the part, but that is not necessarily a flaw in production. In fact, it is an asset to her endearing interpretation of a fragile Sally.

Enrikez is not only one of the producers of the show, but interpretation is also wonderful to watch, as he portrays him with deadpan sincerity that elicits plenty of sympathy and disturbing shock by the end of Act II.

One notable exception is the smaller part of Fraulein Kost (Josie Yount). Yount, with the striking long red hair, makes her character a memorable one with her impressive vocals at the end of Act I (Tomorrow Belongs to Me).

The MTLA attempts to bring to the West Coast, big Broadway musical productions specifically tailored for the smaller 99-seat venues, and this production of Cabaret is palpable evidence that with the right producers, a top notch musical is viable on the smaller stage.

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