Further expanding its extensive collection of Athol Fugard’s works, Theatre Communications Group has just published a new volume composed of Fugard’s latest South African drama, Playland, and an earlier, highly personal work, A Place with the Pigs.Playland charts the unlikely relationship between a white South African army veteran and a black amusement-park night watchman.
The play, which was first published in the U.S. in the March ’93 issue of American Theatre, continues Fugard’s tradition of fervently examining the toll his native nation’s politics has taken on its people. As they disassemble the legal barricades of apartheid, South Africans struggle with the emotional scars of their legacy and the overwhelming need for mutual forgiveness.
The characters in Playland seek true redemption not in the grand proclamations of political discourse, but in the simple gestures between individuals–a shared story, a handshake.Also examining guilt and forgiveness, A Place with the P occupies a unique position in Fugard’s canon. His only play not set in South Africa, Fugard has deemed it a “personal parable,” and the play reveals the author’s stylistic range and waggish wit.The motivation to create A Place with the Pigs was “unlike anything else that I’ve chosen,” Fugard explained to Gabrielle Cody and Joel Schechter in an 1987 interview for Theater magazine.
At the time, Fugard was directing and starring in the play’s premiere at Yale Repertory Theatre.
“If you take [my] other plays,” he said, “there is the opportunity to say something about South Africa, and about broader issues, other than just Athol Fugard. But with A Place with the Pigs, the focus is intensely and purely myself.”The inspiration for this singular play came one day in May 1985 from a small, rather unusual newspaper article.
“Soviet Deserter Discovered After 41 Years in a Pigsty,” proclaimed the New York Times headline.After abandoning his Red Army unit during the desperate days of World War II, Pavel Navrotsky commenced a lifetime of self-imposed exile in his pigsty. Despite unimaginable years of personal grief and guilt, Navrotsky could not exorcise his sense of disgrace. “When the terrified deserter came face to face with strangers for the first time in four decades,” the article reported, “all he could find to say was, Will I be punished?'”Fugard appropriated Pavel’s tale, but not as a commentary on the Soviet Union’s political or social reality.
Despite its journalistic incipience, A Place with the Pigs leaves the real Pavel Navrotsky and his country behind and instead examines the interior landscape of the author, a vista Fugard represents with bold slashes of comic and linguistic color.”It’s a personal parable,” Fugard said, “because the style I have used as a writer is very different from that I’ve used in plays in the past. It is not a slice of realism. Your whole vocabulary as a writer is very different when you move into the parable.
Your gesture is broader, you are not bound by specific considerations of realism and authenticity.”This is not the sort of play where you would ask, What sort of language is Pavel speaking? Did he go to a university? Is he a professor?’ If you ask that sort of question, you don’t understand the rules of the game.”The play portrays Pavel as an obsessive, blustering man. His self-involved guilt leads him to browbeat both himself and his wife, Praskovya, until finally, in desperation, he is inspired to act selflessly and thus begin the journey of self-redemption.
“There were a lot of intentions in writing this play,” Fugard recounted, “and one of them was just to have a lot of fun, a lot of joy and just to bounce the ball, the language ball. This brings us back to the fool: the stupid, pretentious dimensions of some of Pavel’s postures. He had to be able to reach out and pose in language. His great poses are verbal poses: |My soul, Praskovya, it’s my soul that bleeds .
…’ Those are poses.
I also wanted the freedom to articulate in fine language Pavel’s journey in time away from himself.”