‘Statements’ brings apartheid South Africa into present day
“Statements After an Arrest Under the Immorality Act,” on stage through March 3 at New Repertory Theatre in Watertown, is a bold show, and not just because it’s performed in the nude. Set in apartheid South Africa, the play by South African playwright Athol Fugard follows the relationship of a black married man, Errol, and a white woman, Frieda, who are discovered together and charged accordingly.
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To learn more about “Statements After an Arrest Under the Immorality Act” and its history, visit: www.newrep.org/productions/statements-arrest-immorality-act
“We’re at a sensitive moment in history and this play brings to the foreground issues of institutionalized racism. The play puts the audience in a very vulnerable position,” says Eve Kagan, who plays Frieda (A White Woman).
The bulk of the show takes place between the two lovers, as they lie talking. Frieda is searching for a sense of security; she wants to know if Errol loves her and if he will ever leave his wife, if there is any hope for a future between them. For Errol, the situation is a little more complicated. Not only is he married, he’s risking a lot more in the relationship, and he’s dealing with racism that his white love interest can never understand.
Michael Ofori, who plays Errol (A Colored Man), refers to a discussion of water as one of his favorite scenes in the show. Errol’s town is experiencing a drought and water rationing for each household. The white woman offers to give him some of her water and doesn’t understand why he can’t accept. She says, “There’s no water in Bontrug. But I am not thirsty.” Here, the water is a symbol for the humanity that Frieda takes for granted, and Errol is denied.
The nudity of the show, which initially seems shocking, very quickly becomes normalized. Ofori says, “It strips these people down to their core. You see their humanity at the most essential level. When you strip us down all you’ve got are two different skin tones.” This artistic choice highlights both their mutual vulnerability and the difference in their experience. It also offers an allusion to Adam and Eve, and the original sin. Errol makes references to divine judgment throughout the show.
The show is difficult. In the character relationships, the subject matter and the not-always-smooth scripting, it challenges the audience. But even nearly 50 years after its introduction, the play rings as relevant as ever. This is theater for education, not entertainment. Kagan says, “I hope the show invites the audience members to think about privilege and power in their own lives, and ways we can transform society to one of equity.”