Marty Brown is certainly no stranger to those who have hit upon these pages before, and for the more discerning reader, nor is Andre Harris. (If by more discerning one implies "those who read the comments left by others." We do mean that, so good for you. Of course, considering Marty Brown is, at current, the only other writer for these pages, should one discontinue with the usage of "we?") Many things to consider, none of them as interesting as the recent weeks theatrical performance of Athol Fugard's Blood Knot.
Blood Knot is, at it's heart, one of those sort of stories that the stage is probably best designed to hold. Trying to recreate it's immediacy in film would probably come across rather sensationalized, yet presenting the stories nuance would become sparse and less complex on the page. In a way, Blood Knot is similar less of the type of African pieces of literature by authors like Chinua Achebe and J.M. Coetzee, closer instead to (no surprise) Sam Shepherds seminal brothers work, True West. It's not to say that Fugard is less "African" a writer than Coetzee or Achebe, but that this specific work is less interested in what race does to a nation than it is in what race does to brothers. Whereas Achebe and Coetzee often dally in the worlds of the individual, they are nearly bereft of the type of focus that Fugard places on the ever slippery relationship between the two brothers that Blood Knot has at it's center. To find someone that interested in Cain and Abel stories, one has to leave the apartheid behind--which, excitingly and surprisingly, Fugard chooses to do. It's so rare to see a play set in a place with the problems that this era of South Africa has that doesn't focus exclusively on those problems, it causes Blood Knot to become compelling by default. These two brothers, while certainly not in ignorance of the hideous nature of the society they live in, harbor no open desire or ambition to change it--and Fugard is skilled enough to hide his own feelings from the type of explicit condemnation other playwrights are often guilty of. At no point in Blood Knot is the audience treated to a preachy monologue decrying the lack of rights in the land: no, Fugard is full aware that any sane person already grasps the inadequacy of the law, and he chooses instead to leave the sentimental claptrap out. Instead, we're treated to an examination of two brothers separated not by the line of poverty (they both suffer on that front) but instead by the possibilities that their skin tone offers them. Here, the man named Zack (played by Andre Harris) and his brother Morris (Marty Brown) don't look very much alike. In fact, Morris can easily pass for white, if he so chooses (and apparently, he has.) Through a relatively simple piece of plot mechanics, Morris and Zack go through the regular motions of stage work: the arguments, the monologues, the credibly built but still cliched "dramatic arc." By the close of the show, which admittedly left this reviewer craving a bit of bloodshed, very little has changed--the brothers carry ill will towards one another, but they're not about to change things very much.
One of the more complicated aspects of this performance of the show, and one someone with more intelligence might want to examine, is that Marty Brown is not black--not half, not a quarter. Mr. Harris is--so when the late stage role playing begins in the second act, what the audience experiences is not a black man pretending to be a black man who's pretending to be a white calling a black man pretending to be a black man a "nigger," what you actually have is a white man pretending to be a black man who's pretending--c'mon. Go with it. Although it's neither offensive, nor difficult to swallow or accept, it does add a certain additional layer to the plot, one that was probably just as present in the play's Broadway premiere (which had a white man in the Morris role as well.) It makes for compelling work, especially in the hands of someone as skilled as Marty Brown: and here's where one has to get a bit personal. Marty's skills are most blatant in work like this--talky, emotive work that would get bogged down by someone trying to suppress writing with their own personality. It's not mentioned enough when actors decide to take the mature road and allow writing to shine through--Marty could just as easily tried to show off and distract, but he doesn't, and that's commendable. Even now, a few days after watching the show, what stands in memory is less his "performance"--one instead focuses on who the person Morris was--where that man is now, and what his relationship is now like. Yet Morris isn't real--he's just words on a page, and the only reason we know him is because he was so effectively brought to life by Mr. Brown.
Andre, with apologies to Marty Brown, has a somewhat more difficult task to attempt: after all, Harris is, by his own nature, a rather sweet and gentle young man, and no accent is going to conceal that effectively. And while Zack can be sweet, there's a hard edge underlying most of what he does, and it's in capturing that where Harris has his largest challenges. Happily, he succeeds in doing so, and he hits some incredibly fearsome moments due to that. Although the ending of the play seemed somewhat neutered, with it's "all things go around again" conclusion, it seems more to me that the reason it was hard for this writer to buy the lack of murder was due to the earlier sequence in act one where Zack, by Andre's brutal force of personality alone, makes Morris write the second, implicitly sexual letter to his new pen pal. The scene is a nasty one, and when Zack restrains himself from fratricide at the close of the show, it's more than a bit jarring--but not for the reason the writer probably intended. It's difficult to watch because (despite an excellent performance) Zack's restraint doesn't flow out of any specific motive. He doesn't kill his brother...because the writer didn't want him too. This audience member felt differently.
Sadly, this performance of Bloodknot was also it's farewell to the stage for it's superb cast. Hopefully, Mr. Brown and Mr. Harris can be persuaded to bring it out again at a later date. If and when that happens, you're recommended to remedy the mistake of not seeing it when you had the chance. Neither of these gentlemen can be expected to work around your schedule.
-Tucker Stone, 2007