Statements After an Arrest Under the Immorality Act
nytheatre.com review by Seth Duerr
August 15, 2004
A black man. A white woman. An officer of the law. In Athol Fugard’s Statements After An Arrest Under the Immorality Act, the Man and the Woman debate their love for an hour, only to be caught suddenly in the act and interrogated until the play’s end. This is a harrowing world of shifting paces and moods, with performances to match.
While apartheid may have been abolished in South Africa almost two decades ago, issues over who may or may not love one another, and how governments either sanction or persecute such relationships, are as prevalent as ever. Though here at home, our government may not incorporate South Africa’s former Immorality Act condemning marriage and/or sexual relations between blacks and whites, the current fight over gay marriage in this country is just as horrendous, particularly since this country is the first to proclaim its own freedoms.
This universal relevancy, however, is what makes Fugard very difficult to direct—his works, while they are most definitely plays, can easily bait directors (as occurs with Peter Wallace’s staging of this production) into the trap of presenting moral philosophy instead of driving the action. Wallace does however treat the work with an immense appreciation, and directs his actors with sublime care and respect. Wallace’s use of media would be very effective if it were not used to the point of overshadowing the actors in many crucial moments. Using a video projector upstage, certain snapshots of the actors appear in real time during the show, presumably the photos that the officers were taking. There are way too many, however, and the more that appear, the less effective they become.
Most admirable here is the performance of Noel Arthur as the Man; conceived with grace, playfulness, a keen intellect, and, in times of danger, an intense vulnerability, Arthur helps bring out the Man’s spectacular inner battle—he criticizes his lover for her fear of being caught loving him, and yet when he is caught, his gut instincts match that of a trapped animal facing an impending slaughter. Similarly, Megan Leigh as the Woman (appearing naked, as does Arthur, for the entire 80-minute performance) presents a lovely and well-thought out portrait of a very lost soul. A little creaky at the beginning, Leigh certainly warms up to the job—her final speeches are done with a heartbreaking defensiveness. All that is missing is a way for the two performers to find the same relaxation listening as they have when they are speaking; it would make their relationship that much more inevitable and sad.
Wallace and his dialect coaches Laura Hitt and Judilee Vivier, having done brilliant work with Arthur and Leigh (Afrikaaner being one of the hardest accents to learn), do need to reign in Bob Jaffe’s stint as the policeman, as he sounds like a crude Italian taking a class in Afrikaans, something too distracting for a story as important as this. The play and the lead performers certainly overcome these deficiencies however, and the production is well worth your time.