A Thought-Provoking Production of Athol Fugard’s “The Train Driver”

Off Broadway West is currently presenting Athol Fugard’s challenging production of the playwright’s latest work “The Train Driver”.  The playwright says he considers his 2009 play to be his most important work.   This almost 90 minute arbitration on guiltiness is extremely dramatic in the hands of two impressive actors.

“The Train Driver” was inspired by a real event in 2009 in which a South African woman stopped in front of a train with her three children. Fugard’s drama shortens the incident to a woman with a single baby on her back. It forces on the anguish the driver of the train that killed them bore.

Since no one has been able to determine the woman’s identity, the driver Roelf ends up at the burial site for those without names, people whose final resting place is beneath mounds of dirt unmarked by pieces of junk placed on top by the resident gravedigger, Simon, so that he won’t dig the same hole twice.

Most of the play consists of the train driver Roelf administering a talking cure to himself with some gentle prodding from Simon.  During this course Roelf who is white begins to realize that the blacks during this period of Apartheid were second class citizens. He starts to empathize with the black man’s life that he cannot image.  In a moving monologue he addresses to the dead and realize his inadequacy “I don’t know what it’s like without hope” he tells the victim’s ghost.

“The Train Driver” is certainly a gripping play and Conor Hamill and Melvin Thompson gives outstanding performances. Conor Hamill gives a robust performance as Roelf however his striking Boer accent is sometimes hard to understand especially in the opening scenes. He seems angrier than slowing slipping into actual madness.

Melvin Thompson is excellent as Simon.  He plays the role as a simple black man who chooses his few words carefully.  You can tell he has seen more hardship then his white counterpart

Richard Harder direction is sharp and he gets the most out of this two characters. He also has superb large projections on two giant screens of life in the ghetto section of a South African town before the show.  Harder also did the set design of the three sided intimate stage with three dirt graves surrounded by rock and various junk lying about the stage including an old rusty auto muffler.

“The Train Driver” runs through December 6th at the Phoenix Theatre,  6th floor, 414 Mason Street, San Francisco.  For tickets call 415-407-3214 on go to for more information.