The Fountain Theatre continues its ongoing relationship with Athol Fugard with the U.S. premiere of the master playwright's newest play. Stephen Sachs directs Morlan Higgins and Adolphus Ward in The Train Driver, opening on October 16. Low-priced previews begin October 8.
A traumatized train driver is tormented by a nightmare that has shattered his life - until he is awakened by an extraordinary stranger. A mesmerizing, transforming and deeply personal journey into the human soul, Fugard calls 'The Train Driver,' "The most important play I've ever written."
Nearly a decade ago, Fugard saw a small item in the newspaper about a black South African mother who grabbed her three children and pulled them onto the railroad tracks in front of an oncoming train. The story haunted him, and he began making journal entries in his writer's notebook.
"I had an appointment with this story," he says. "The minute I read it I knew I was going to have to deal with it in one way or another. I wrestled with it for years, not realizing at first that the story I would write was not hers - that what I would deal with was the man in the train. His reality was the one I could enter into. This play is my truth and reconciliation. It deals with my own inherent blindness and guilt as a white South African."
"It's an awakening," explains director Stephen Sachs. "Until the moment of the accident, this white train driver was on a narrow track, looking only at the rails in front of him. His train's path goes through the pondoks (shacks) and he doesn't look at them or see the misery around him, until one day this woman steps in front of his train and his eyes are opened. The light I hope audiences see in this play is that awakening is possible; it happens, even in the darkest night."
Athol Fugard is a South African playwright, actor and director whose scripts have earned countless accolades, including the Academy Award, Obie Award, and Tony Award. The first white South African playwright to collaborate with black actors and workers, Fugard writes of the frustrations of life in contemporary South Africa and of overcoming the psychological barriers created by apartheid. Some of his works, such as Blood Knot, were initially banned in South Africa. Widely acclaimed around the world, his plays include Boesman and Lena (Obie Award, Best Foreign Play), Sizwe Bansi Is Dead (Tony Award, Best Play), A Lesson from Aloes (New York Drama Critics Circle Award, Best Play), the semiautobiographical Master Harold...and the Boys (Writers Guild Award, Outstanding Achievement) and The Road to Mecca (New York Drama Critics Circle Citation, Best Foreign Play, London Evening Standard Award, Best Play). In his first two post-apartheid plays, Valley Song (1995) and The Captain's Tiger (1998), Fugard addressed more personal concerns, but in Sorrows and Rejoicings (2001) he focused on the complex racial dynamics of South Africa's new era. In 2005 his novel, Tsotsi (1980), was adapted for the screen, winning the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
The Fountain Theatre's special relationship with Fugard began when co-founder/co-artistic director Stephen Sachs directed the L.A. premiere of Fugard's The Road to Mecca in 2000. Fugard was so impressed that he offered the company world premiere rights to an as-yet-unwritten new work. When Sachs directed the world premiere of Exits and Entrances in 2004, it received recognition for Best Production and Best Director from both the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle (garnering a total of five awards) and the Ovations (receiving a total of three awards). Mr. Sachs went on to direct acclaimed regional productions of Exits and Entrances around the country, an Off-Broadway production at Primary Stages, and the UK premiere at the 2007 International Edinburgh Festival. The American premiere of Mr. Fugard's Victory at the Fountain in 2008, also directed by Stephen Sachs, was the recipient of two LADCC awards and four LA Weekly nominations, and was named "Best of 2008" by the Los Angeles Times. For the program of Victory, Athol Fugard wrote that he "considers The Fountain Theatre his artistic home in the United States." Victory was followed, last season, by the West Coast premiere of Coming Home, also directed by Sachs.