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A CurtainUp DC  Review

The Captain's Tiger: A Memoir For the Stage

by Susan Davidson

January 19, 1999 Editor's Note on The Captain's Tiger in New York
As a rule we do a second review of plays seen and reviewed on their way to Broadway. However, since changes since Susan Davidson reviewed it in DC are imperceptible -- same cast, only a different venue -- we'll stand by the original review. With two exceptions (Dennis Parichy, lighting; Darron L. West, sound ) even the D.C. production team is in place.

This production previously played at California's La Jolla Playhouse Last summer. The play's world premiere took place in the fall of 1997 at the State Theatre in Pretoria and its American premiere at South New Jersey's McCarter Theatre in May of 1998 (that production with South African actors Owen Sejake and Jennifer Steyn joining Fugard)

Manhattan Theatre Club's Stage II.City Center, 131 W. 55th St (212/ 581-1212) 12/17/98-2/07/99; opened 1/19/99.

When the Manhattan Theater Club pulled its upcoming production of Terrence McNallyís Corpus Christi, the South African playwright Athol Fugard withdrew his play, The Captainís Tiger, from that theaterís roster for this season, in protest. What irony! Fugard has in the past delivered some searingly beautiful plays  -- Master Harold and the Boys, The Road To Mecca and Valley Song -- all of which exposed in very humanand revealing ways the political problems of his native South Africa but The Captainís Tiger is not up to his usual high standard. On the contrary, it is a self-indulgent autobiographical piece about the playwright at twenty getting a job as manservant ("tiger" in shiptalk) to the captain of a cargo ship and traveling the world.  While on board, he starts to write. While on shore, he loses his virginity. Not a particularly original story.  And so it is a conceit on the part of Fugard to threaten the Manhattan Theatre Club with the withdrawal of a piece that might have made a slight (very slight) radio play.  It certainly is not yet worthy of an Off-Broadway production.

The  book-lined set (are we supposed to believe that this is Fugardís subconscious; it certainly does not look like a shipís library) is spare, except for a table and chair at which Fugard, who plays himself, sits and writes.  He is visited there by his mother, as she looked in a photograph taken when she was very young .  The story of his parentís courting  -- told too late in the two-hour evening for anyone to really care -- is almost touching and Fugard speaks of his relationship to his mother warmly.  As the mother, Felicity Jonesís jeune fille style and intermittent  attempts at a South African accent are irritating.

The third character to appear on stage is Donkeyman Ė thatís shiptalk for the guys who lift that bale and tote that barge Ė ably played by Tony Todd, an imposing figure by any standards who dominates every scene he is in.  Not just because he is at least head and shoulders taller than Fugard, and one would guess 100 lbs heavier -- he is after all supposed to be a Zulu from Kenya.  His basso profundo voice fills the space and in spite of his size, his movements are balletic.  Fugard too moves with grace but cannot compete with Toddís stage presence.  Toddís character, however, is supposed to be illiterate and so his dialogue is uttered in Swahili, pidginí English, and the occasional incongruous contemporary vernacular.

Privately, the Kennedy Center concedes that Fugard Ė who wrote, directed and acts in The Captainís Tiger Ė is working on the piece and that the Manhattan Theatre Clubís production will be "reconceived" and that is good news.  Perhaps there is a play in there somewhere and what
Washington saw was still a draft.

CurtainUp's Review of Fugard's Valley Song
THE CAPTAINíS TIGER: A Memoir for the Stage
by Athol Fugard
Co-directed by Athol Fugard and Susan Hilferty
Starring Athol Fugard, Felicity Jones and Tony Todd
Set and Costume Design:  Susan Hilferty
Lighting Design:  Malcolm Sturchio
Original Lighting Design:  Dennis Parichy
Music Composer and Arranger:  Lulu van der Walt
Sound Design:  Tony J. Martin
Kennedy Center:  Telephone (202) 467-4600
opened September 24 closes November 1, 1998 (and then due at Manhattan Theatre Club 12/15/98)
Reviewed by Susan Davidson, September 28, 1998
©September 1998, Elyse Sommer, CurtainUp
Information from this site may not be reproduced in print or online without specific permission from esommer@pipeline.com

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