Theatre ReviewsTom Williams

The Island

By Athol Fugard, John Kani and Winston NtshonaThe Island by Athol fugard at remy bumppo theater

Directed by James Bohnen

Produced by Remy Bumppo Theatre Company

At the Greenhouse Theater Center

Haunting look at the spirit of man through the eyes of two political prisoners

The second part of the three play Fugard tribute-The Island- is a stirring depiction of governmental injustice during apartheid in South Africa through the eyes of two prisoners on an unnamed island prison.  This gripping drama is splendidly staged by director James Bohnen and superbly acted by La Shawn Banks (John) and Kamal Angelo Bolder (Winston).

the island by fugard

The first 5-7 minutes of the Island demonstrates the back-breaking labor John and Winston must endure daily. Banks and Bolder mime their purposeless labor like two dead-men-walking. After a few sequences of  their chores, I could start to feel their pain. Meaningless labor defeats the spirit as much as it hurts one’s back.

During their nights in the same cell, John convinces Winston to help him stage Sophocles’ Antigone for their fellow inmates. (This plot twist was based on the actual experience of  John Kani and actor and co-author of this play.) We  realize that John and Winston have become friends during their three year incarceration.  The emotional tension builds until John informs Winston that his sentence has been reduced to three years-thus John will be released in three months.  Their friendship becomes strained. Winston doesn’t want to play Antigone–a female role.

the island by fugard

Fugard parallels Antigone’s fight against political and patriarchal government with the loss of dignity at the island prison.  La Shawn Banks and Kamal Angelo Bolder are superb as each truthfully portray the pent-up rage from their constant harassment by the prison guards.  We sense how Winston and John each attempt to keep their sanity as a subtle means of defiance.

The staging and the  skill of actors keeps the show engaging as the tension builds as we learn the basic goodness of these two men. The climatic last scene of The Island is a testament to the resiliency of human heart. Banks and Bolder are terrific. This is an important theatrical work worthy of an audience.


Tom Williams

At the Greenhouse theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave, Chicago, IL

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