In The Fountain Theatre’s production of Athol Fugard’s “The Painted Rocks at Revolver Creek,” a West Coast premiere, the time is 1981 and the setting is an arid hillside in Mpumalanga Province, Union of South Africa. An old man and a young boy enter onto a dry, dirt-filled stage where stones have been painted in brilliantly colorful designs that owe nothing to anything that has gone before. In the upper stage-left corner stands a huge rock. The boy calls the old man Tata, a respectful term that means, “father.” The old man calls the boy Bokkie, an Afrikaans term of endearment that means “small buck.” After having painted a hundred and five rocks over a long period of time, Tata has come with his young helper to take on at long last the painting of the monolith, his final work and his magnum opus. As the scene unfolds, the joy the two take in the company of each other is palpable and, for an audience, infectious. They laugh and sing and dance and ultimately address the rock that is their task. There is a hitch; the old man is reaching the end of the road and balks at painting what he knows will be his last work of art. In the end Tata directs Bokkie to paint the rock so as to tell the story of his life.
As Tata, whose name is Nukain Mabuza, the real life outsider artist who inspired the play, Thomas Silcott is an extraordinary, captivating presence. And young Philip Solomon as Bokkie is his equal. Together they ignite the stage. The dynamics change abruptly upon the entrance of Afrikaaner landowner Elmarie Kleynhans (Suannne Spoke in a gripping, chilling performance). Nukain becomes servile and Bokkie rebellious when, in her lack of understanding of the work, she demands that the image they have created be washed away. The racial order of apartheid and its effects leap from the stage.
The second act shifts twenty-two years forward in time and Bokkie is now a grown man named Jonathan Sejake (excellent Gilbert Glenn Brown), who has returned to Nukain Mabuza’s rock flower garden to restore the painting on the monolith. Apartheid has been overthrown and a new constitution adopted that has shaken the power structure and the relationship between whites and blacks. When the farmer’s wife, Mrs. Kleynhans, enters to confront what she regards as an intruder on her property, the tension ratchets up to a nearly unbearable level.
Under the impeccable direction of Simon Levy, the performances are stunning. The set design by Jeffrey McLaughlin, with lighting by Jennifer Edwards, shoehorns a world into a tiny space. Naila Aladdin-Sanders’ costumes are ideal as are the music and sound design of Peter Bayne.
The unique dialects of South Africa – Xhosa, Afrikaans, Zulu, Nguni and the influence of these languages on spoken English – are rendered with convincing authenticity. Kudos to dialect coach Nike Doukas and Afrikaans consultant Angelique Pretorius!
“The Painted Rocks at Revolver Creek,” is superb and runs through December 14 at The Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Avenue in Hollywood.