It’s not the first time that Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven presented the world premiere of an Athol Fugard play. “The Shadow of the Hummingbird” now playing at Long Wharf is being treated to a beautifully staged production of his latest work. The master playwright, soon to be 82 years old, not only wrote this play, but took on the lead role. You have to give him credit for this because he was on stage for the entire 60 minutes and knew well how to control the stage.
Mr. Fugard is known best for his earlier works including “Master Harold… and the Boys” and “The Road to Mecca;” however, this new play is not of that strong fiber. This play is far more sentimental as Fugard takes on the role of a grandfather who wants to leave his grandson something to remember for the rest of his life. Young Boba calls his grandfather Oupa and enjoys the old man’s company so much that instead of doing homework, he skips over to his grandfather’s house.
During that visit, Oupa tries to grab hold of the innocence he once had and now sees in his grandson. He tells his grandson that at one time when he was very little he tried to capture a shadow just as his grandson did when he was a babe. Stressing the beauty of nature and life, Oupa shares with Boba Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave.” The boy does not catch on to the meaning right away, so Oupa explains about men bound in a cave who can only look at the wall in front of them. When a fire is behind them, they believe that the shadows they see on the wall are real. He demonstrates this by seating the youngster and forcing him to face forward. The message of what is real and what is not becomes a focal point as a hummingbird outside the window flutters by casting a shadow on a huge wall map.
“The Shadow of the Hummingbird” is a minor work compared to Fugard’s brilliant early works. It some ways, it is the shadow of the great plays. However, the experience of not only seeing what will be one of his last works, but to see Fugard on stage is a most memorable occasion.
An introductory scene to this one-act was created by Paula Fourie with “extracts from Athol Fugard’s unpublished notebooks.” Directed with tender care by Gordon Edelstein with Eugene Lee’s exquisitely colorful and book-packed set, as well as with lighting by Michael Chybowski and sound by John Gromada, this is a play to celebrate. It runs through April 27. Box office: 203-787-4282.
Joanne Greco Rochman is an active member in The American Theatre Critics Association. She welcomes comments. Contact: [email protected]