Stage presence

THURSDAY, OCT. 16, 2008

Interplayers’ latest looks at theater beginnings and ends

The words “exits” and “entrances” have a particular significance in theatrical scripts, marking a character’s very existence on the stage.

Acclaimed South African playwright Athol Fugard’s “Exits and Entrances” takes the shape of a dialogue between an older actor, Andre Huguenet, who is nearing his own career “exit,” and a young character named simply Playwright, who is making his career “entrance.”

In the hands of Fugard – who has won Obies, Tonys and just about every other theater award – this play becomes a rumination not just about theater but also about art and life. It is clearly autobiographical, stemming from an encounter in Fugard’s younger days when he met an accomplished South African actor during a production. The actor, known as the “Olivier” of South Africa, became a mentor and role model to Fugard.

The Playwright, in the flush of youthful idealism, believes in confronting the world’s harsh truths – and especially his country’s racial problems. The old actor believes in theater’s grandeur. He extols the virtues of Sophocles and of Shakespeare. In the end, the actor delivers a devastating soliloquy from “Hamlet.”

“ … It movingly speaks of theater’s potential to shape lives in enduring ways, even as it acknowledges the evanescence of the art form,” wrote New York Times critic Charles Isherwood after its New York run in 2007.

Director Karen Kalensky, Interplayers’ consulting artistic director, said it “speaks to the heart of the theatergoer who may wonder what the life of an actor can entail.”

Fugard is best known for his award-winning plays dealing with South Africa, including “Sizwe Bansi is Dead,” “The Road to Mecca” and “Master Harold … and the Boys.” He now teaches playwriting and theater at the University of California-San Diego. “Exits and Entrances” debuted in 2004 in a tiny theater in Hollywood and later was nominated for a New York Outer Critic’s Circle Award.

Two favorite Spokane actors, Damon Abdallah and Maynard Villers, play the Playwright and Huguenet, respectively. Both are veterans of the Interplayers stage and many other stages throughout the region.

This two-person play is “not a major addition to the South African playwright’s oeuvre,” wrote Isherwood. It was originally written as a one-act and remains short, even with lots of quotations from Shakespeare and the classics.

Critic Karen Weinstein, writing in culturevulture.net, recommended viewing it as “vignette” or “showcase.” Fugard himself refers to him as a “miniaturist who writes on small canvases.”

It certainly does promise to be a showcase for two accomplished actors – as well as a tribute to a man who was a profound influence on an important artist.

Jim Kershner can be reached at (509) 459-5493 or by e-mail at jimk@spokesman.com.

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