BY MICHAEL SOMMERS
OFF BROADWAY REVIEW
The latest in Signature Theater’s series of Athol Fugard dramas is “My Children! My Africa!”
Opening on Thursday at the Pershing Square Signature Center, this sober 1989 play is a well-written if predictably sorrowful look at the apartheid mess in South Africa.
As with other Fugard works, “My Children! My Africa!” is overlong and a bit preachy, but works itself up into a furious second act.
Set in 1984, the story involves a high-minded teacher, Mr. M (James A. Williams), and two youngsters who meet during a high school debate. Thami (Stephen Tyrone Williams) is a smart black kid from a shantytown mentored by Mr. M while Isabel (Allie Gallerani) is white, middle-class and curious about Thami’s world. They tentatively strike up a friendship when they team for a literature contest.
Interspersed with extended monologues by the characters reflecting their viewpoints, the leisurely drama turns urgent when the country’s black students embark upon a violent strike that proves tragic. Isabel is witness to the growing nightmare that envelops the teacher and his prize student.
The director’s cunning use of subtle sound effects from Robert Kaplowitz and Bobby McFerrin’s music enhance the drama. Occasionally glinting under the glow of Marcus Doshi’s lighting, designer Neil Patel’s handsome setting of rusting corrugated metal is crowned by nasty coils of razor wire that suggest the racial divide that tore South Africa to shreds.
“My Children! My Africa!” continues through June 10 at the Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 W. 42nd St., New York. Call (212) 244-7529 or visit www.signaturetheatre.org.