A Lesson from Aloes demands full attention at Z-Space Below.

L-R: Friends Steve (Adrian Roberts), Piet (Victor Talmadge), and Gladys (Wendy vanden Heuvel) share a toast in “A Lesson From Aloes,” performing June 3-29 at Z Below. Photo by David Allen

A Lesson From Aloes: Drama by Athol Fugard. Directed by Timothy Near. Weathervane Productions, Z-Space Below, 450 Florida Street , San Francisco, CA. 415-626-0453 or www.alessonfromaloes.com.  June 3-29,2018

A Lesson from Aloes demands full attention at Z-Space Below. Rating: ★★★★★

There was great anticipation in the Bay Area theater world with the announcement of Timothy Near to direct Athol  Fugard’s 1980 play A Lesson From Aloes. She helmed the Aurora Theatre production of  Fugard’s Master Harold. . .and the boys creating a stunning evening. In that play the characters are well defined with a touch of humor. In A Lesson from Aloes the three characters are damaged beyond any humor being trapped in the 1960 brutal enforcement of apartheid laws.

The two white characters are middle-aged Afrikaner Piet Bezuidenhout and his English wife Gladys. Their interaction fills the first act with long stretches of dialog that partially define their inner conflicts that explode in the second act. Piet is a retired bus driver and failed farmer who buries his past memories by becoming an amateur botanist studying the aloe plant that perseveres in the harshest environment. His wife wishes to “to live my life, not just survive it” and has a strong hate for the aloe plant. This hatred is suggestive of an underlying mental defect brought on by her past experience involving what was written in her diary that she moves from hiding place to hiding place. There is a suspicion that Piet was an informant for the police.

They are waiting for Piet’s longtime best friend, Black activist Steve and his family to share a meal with them before they leave for England. Steve has been “been granted an ‘Exit Visa’.” This ‘visa’ is actually an exile from the land where he was born, raised and loves. He has no other option having been brutally interrogated by the apartheid regime.

After the intermission Steve appears without his family. Fugard has written a devastating confrontation between Piet and Steve instigated by Gladys that overshadows the false comradeship early in the scene. Steve’s comments about the pride he has in his bricklaying that he cannot continue in South Africa digs deep into your emotions. Gladys’ diatribe about her physical abuse by the regime after they read her diary is explosive.

Although the play emphasizes the horrors of apartheid with the symbolism of being able to survive as does the aloe plant, it is also a scathing examination of the personal damage it inflicts that is beyond repair.

Under Timothy Near’s astute direction Victor Talmadge creates an ambiguous Piet who seems more interested in his plants than human interaction. Talmadge makes you can feel Piet’s shock when he is accused of being an informant. Wendy vanden Heuvel grows into her role as Gladys after being mostly a sounding board for Piet’s ruminations to the totally out of control accuser. Adrian Roberts brings energy to what has been static interaction and as Steve he dominates the stage without detracting from his hosts.

Deb O’s scenic design by is a marvel of outdoor dirt yard and indoor bedroom.  As with any South African home it is surrounded by a protective high fence. Cliff  Caruthers’ non-intrusive sound design is a delight enhanced by York Kennedy’s lighting and Frederic O. Boulay’s projections.

The play runs about two hours including the intermission and is a must see play lest we forget the devastation of apartheid.  It is advised to arrive early enough to read the program that will give you greater insight into the play.

CAST: Victor Talmadge as Piet; Wendy vanden Heuvel as Gladys; Adrian Roberts as Steve.

CREATIVE TEAM: Director Timothy Near; Scenic Design, Deb O; Costume Design, Maggi Yule; Lighting Design, York Kennedy; Sound Design, Cliff Caruthers; Projection Design, Frederic O. Boulay; Stage Managers, Marie Shell & Christina Hogan.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

Courtesy of www.theatreworldim2.com.

L-R: Friends Steve (Adrian Roberts), Piet (Victor Talmadge), and Gladys (Wendy vanden Heuvel) share a toast in “A Lesson From Aloes,” performing June 3-29 at Z Below.

  1. York Kennedy
    York Kennedy06-10-2018


    I am happy you enjoyed our production of A Lesson From Aloes at Z Space and I enjoyed reading your review. I deeply appreciate you listing the creative team at the end. I look on with horror these days as major papers are dropping the listing of the design team on the theatre reviews, in press blasts, etc. After 30 years in the profession, I find it so disheartening that it is an increasing trend to not list designers on the reviews at all. Many of us read these reviews and are genuinely curious about who did the design work.

    Many thanks,

    York Kennedy