Athol Fugard’s early play, Blood Knot, is an interesting amalgam of theatrical schools. The bulk of it seems to exist within the bounds of poetic realism. It takes place in a decrepit shack in a poverty-stricken “Coloured” section of Port Elizabeth, South Africa, in 1961, when Apartheid was in full force. Its two (and only) characters are two brothers, born of the same mother but different fathers: dark-skinned Zachariah (Colman Domingo) and Morris (Scott Shepherd), who can pass easily for white. Nonetheless, Morris is drawn to his brother and has opted to live with and care for him—as sort of the “homebody” in the relationship—rather than make a much easier way for himself in white society. A pivot point comes when Zachariah’s sexual urges (“I want woman!”) become too vehement to ignore. (There is a hint that his sole experience of sex is rape, as well.) Morris suggests answering a Pen Pal ad in the personals section of the newspaper, which the illiterate Zachariah does, Morris of course being the one who does the actual writing. In time, a response comes from an interested woman in another town, with a picture. A picture that indicates she is white—something neither of the brothers counted on. The accompanying letter mentions also that her brother is a policeman.
Now of course, in real life, you could turn off that faucet by simply not continuing the correspondence. But the brothers believe they are committed somehow to see things through. And this brings us to another school of theatre—I won’t exactly call it theatre of the absurd, as the events track linearly…but we’re into comic absurdity without a doubt: the obsessive pursuit of a goal that loses sight of the original objective. This in turn leads to the way in which the brothers work out problems and express hidden feelings: role play. Which is when, finally, we enter avant garde territory, lose the physicality of literal place and find ourselves in the kind of landscape that would accommodate Waiting for Godot. A play, by the way, that seems to have had its influence on Blood Knot.
Like many Fugard plays, this one is overwritten, but at least dramatic tension is not withheld as he sets up his characters. The contrast between the brothers is established early and starkly. However, Fugard has directed as well, and he has always been meticulous about caressing individual beats, so the overwritten text takes its own sweet time, longer than it ought, to get where it’s going. The good news—it’s worth the ride if you have the patience for it; and the two actors making it happen are uncompromising and terrific.
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