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Blood Knot

No, Zach. You see, we're tied together. It's what they call the blood knot . . . the bond between brothers.—Morris
l. to r. Tom Story as Morris and Nathan Hinton as Zachariah (photo: Stan Barouh)
Blood Knot, one of Athol Fugard's earliest and best plays, is set in the playwright's home country, South Africa. When first performed, in 1961, the play shocked its audience. Its frank discussion of apartheid made many South Africans very uncomfortable. And that was the point. The play lives on as one of the best studies in race relations of the last century and for its sharp, concise dialogue between two very different brothers bound by love, hatred, a common heritage, and much animosity that needs to be overcome.

Decades later one wonders whether the play is dated. So much has happened in terms of race relations since the '60's. However, the underlying themes of jealousy, sibling rivalry, and prejudice remain as valid now as they did then. If anything, Blood Knot is more relevant than ever.

. Morris, played with great sensitivity, humor and empathy by Tom Story, has returned to live with his brother Zachariah. Both are born of the same woman but had different fathers which is why Morris, who can read and write, is so light-skinned he can (and did) pass for white while Zach is dark black and illiterate. The symbolism is somewhat heavy-handed. They live together in a modest shack -- brilliantly executed by Set Designer Debra Booth -- and lit by Lighting Designer Michael Giannitti. Morris, a bit of a fusspot, keeps house, cooks, and tenderly bathes his brother's sore feet when Zach returns home after a day of being a guard. Morris writes, on Zach's behalf, letters to a pen pal. Composer Mongezi Ntaka and Sound Designer David Lamont Wilson have provided background melodic and distinctly South African music. Anyone for the toi toi? (singing, chanting and rhythmic dancing that sometimes expresses hope and sometimes, anger.)

Nathan Hinton gives a very moving performance as Zach. He loves his brother; he hates his brother. They fight; they play games. They are irreparably "tied together," just like all the citizens of South Africa, black, white, Afrikaans and so on.

The two actors are well matched. Not that you are asked to take sides but rather to understand their dilemma which thanks to Joy Zinoman's razor sharp direction is inevitable. Director Zinoman, who started Washington's Studio Theatre in a part of town that was destroyed by the riots of the late 1960's, has never shied away from tough subjects. Instead she brings to tough subjects a value-added sensitivity.

There is something else at work in this production and that is the location where it is being performed. Now in its second season, Mosaic performs at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, on H Street NE, another part of Washington that was destroyed by riots. But like Studio Theater's home on 14th Street, NW, the theater has created the impetus for an integrated neighborhood to rise out of the ashes and become the go to hot spot for lively theater, restaurants, and rapidly rising real estate prices. The 'hood is hip and so is Mosaic.

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Blood Knot by Athol Fugard
Directed by Joy Zinoman
Set Designer, Debra Booth
Lighting Designer, Michael Giannitti
Costume Designer, Brandee Mathies
Composer, Monzezi Ntaka
Cast: Nathan Hinton (Zachariah); Tom Story (Morris); Anika Harden (Woman)
Running Time: 2 hours and 20 minutes with one intermission
Mosaic Theater Company, Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H Street, NE; Washington, DC 20008; March 29 - April 30, 2017; tickets are $10 to $60;; 202-399-7993.

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 Blood Knot
Blood Knot - Athol Fugard's play lives on as one of the best studies in race relations of the last century and for its sharp, concise dialogue between two very different brothers . . Read More