“Boseman and Lena” – Black Theatre Troupe

This review aired on KBAQ February 10, 2014


Black Theatre Troupe, Helen K. Mason Performing Arts Center
Phoenix, AZ

After struggling through several mediocre shows in their impressive new Helen K. Mason Performing Arts Center, the Black Theatre Troupe has finally staged a remarkably moving and beautifully conceived production of Athol Fugard’s 1969 insightful play, “Boesman and Lena .”  The play reveals the awful realities of South African apartheid in the late 1960’s before the awful practice was abolished.

The production is artfully but simply staged by Walter Dallas, brilliantly acted by Jeremy Gillett’s rough tough Boesman, Shanique (Shan eque) Sabrina Scott’s touchingly sincere Lena, and Ken Love’s stalwart Outa.

Even Thom Gilseth’s stark mudflat setting paints a bleak picture of the South African miseries that confront Boesman and his wife Lena as they try to reestablish their lives after they have been unfairly evicted from their farm labor jobs.  So this often hard to watch play portrays both the untenable conditions in this bigoted country but also probes the troubled relationship between this unhappy couple.  Boesman is a staunchly biased guy who feels his wife must follow his dictates without question.  Boesman’s odd bigotry proves challenging to the cleverly smart Lena   Thus, the couple face the evils of societal injustice only to have similar stupidities plague their own union.  The play graphically shows audiences the intolerables of any discrimination.  It’s quite a play but without the moving Black Theatre Troupe production, the important messages could easily get lost in tedious melodrama.

The cast couldn’t be better.  Gillett is all bravado and hyper masculinity as the externally tough Boesman but the actor shows how easily this man can be shattered and stifled emotionally by Scott’s brilliantly played Lena.  The wife is actually the stronger of the two characters even though Lena is willing to give some for the expected man’s role as the dominant person in a marriage.  But she still hurts her husband by asking another man, Outa, into their camp and Ken Love plays this part with restrained dignity.  It’s interesting that this character doesn’t even speak the same language as the couple putting further challenges into the situation.  The ending surprises and I won’t give it away.  Couple the fine acting with Dallas’ subtly restrained direction and you have theatrical perfection.

“Boesman and Lena” is not a joyful play and is often hard to watch.  You won’t have fun at this play but you will be appalled at how badly people and society can treat each other.  “Boesman and Lena” continues through Sunday, February 16.  For tickets, call the Black Theatre Troupe box office at 602-258-8129 or order tickets online at www.blacktheatretroupe.org.

Grade: A