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Theater: My Children! My Africa! Forum

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Welcome to an online discussion of the theater production of My Children! My Africa! at the Wilma Theater in Philadelphia, PA. Athol Fugard, praised by The New Yorker as "a primary candidate for either the Nobel Prize in Literature or the Nobel Peace Prize," confronts the tragedy of apartheid in his native land of South Africa in this compelling and hopeful tale. With a personal story about characters who grapple with racial and social division, this play should provoke some interesting discussions. Please join in!

Comments are posted in the order in which they are received, with earlier postings appearing first below on this page. To see the latest postings, click on "Go to last comment" below.

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Good, but
Name: Winnie
Date: 2006-12-13 11:25:56
Link to this Comment: 21321

I liked this play and what it attempted to show. What I didn't like was the length and the speechifying. The act where Mr. M went on and on with Tommy just standing there seemed overlong; I think the points could have been made in dialogue. It took till the end of the first act to get sympathy for what seemed to be Tommy's petulant teenage angst, which was not over played but bubbled up just enough. I felt he should have been grateful for the attention and assistance of his schoolmaster. His speech was powerful, moving and thought-provoking. He DID have something important to be upset about. In spite of the length, I didn't feel as though I knew the characters well enough. Fugard may qualify for a peace prize of some sort, as suggested in the intro, but not a prize for this play.

Definitely a good show
Name: Carrie
Date: 2006-12-13 11:35:22
Link to this Comment: 21322

I saw this show during the previews last week. It is a very good show. I do agree that sometimes it seems that speeches went on a little too long and that characters were just standing there. However, I liked the format of the show. I feel that I got to know the characters in the capacity I needed to know them for the show. I also really enjoyed the fact that the show looked at the situation from multiple angles. You really left the theatre not knowing who was right or who was wrong.

I am always impressed by art that does that. I enjoying watching, reading, and viewing things that don't hand me an easy answer at the end. I enjoy making up my own mind and giving thought and discussion to what I just witnessed. To me, that always makes a great evening out. My husband and I definitely discussed the show when we came out of the theatre. I applaud the Wilma for doing the show, it was very thought-provoking. I also applaud the performances of Yaegel Welch and Glynn Thurman, they were quite astounding at times.

contemporary connections
Name: Anne Holme
Date: 2006-12-14 13:53:36
Link to this Comment: 21324

An integral part of the Wilma’s mission is to “engage our audiences in an aesthetic and philosophical examination of the complexities of contemporary life.” One of the questions the artistic team at the Wilma had to ask about My Children! My Africa! was whether a play written during the height of the anti-apartheid resistance, would still feel relevant—beyond its obvious significance as historical commentary—fifteen years after the end of apartheid in South Africa.

The issues that the play wrestles with regarding the educational inequities of apartheid, the relationship between Education and Hope, and Education’s potential as a vehicle for non-violent social change, feel profoundly relevant to the work I do every day as the Wilma’s Education Director. I would be curious to hear about ways in which the play resonated with other audience members, and whether any connections to “the complexities of contemporary life” emerged for you.

Not impressed...
Name: Shara T.
Date: 2006-12-17 13:21:14
Link to this Comment: 21332

I found it troubling that the overarching theme of the play seemed to be that the white girl from her "safe" background was the true victim of South African apartheid. Not once did the playwright thoroughly examine the political and social factors of what caused the city to implode and what prompted Tommy to join the movement. The writer did, however, succeed in making it seem as though the young lady suffered more than Tommy and his counterparts in the struggle. She even had the last word in the play. It also seemed to suggest that the fighters of the movement were the sole cause of the violence that transpired within "The Location."

This represents a one-dimensional, short-sighted perspective of a period in South African history that greatly parallels the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s in America. It makes me wonder just how many people walk around with this skewed view of what it means to seek freedom in a land colonized by outsiders who wish to keep an entire segment of the population oppressed.

Correction to previous post
Name: Shara T.
Date: 2006-12-17 13:44:21
Link to this Comment: 21333

The correct spelling of the young man's name is Thami.

Part of Thami
Name: Ethel R.
Date: 2006-12-17 19:30:26
Link to this Comment: 21335

I thought this was a wonderful, thought-provoking play as are all Fugard's plays, and I have seen most of them. However, the first act is too long, because there could be a different division between the two acts, and there is a long period during which Thami stands still, neck bent forward, open mouthed. A change of the direction in this scene would help the play.

contemporary relevance
Name: Novella
Date: 2006-12-17 22:46:31
Link to this Comment: 21336

Beyond the obvious historical referents, there's a perennial quality to this play, and much for us to think about in the present. Beginning with a debate, this play signals for me that there are no easy answers. Take, for instance, the stereotypical and overly simplistic thinking that predominates in discussions about immigrants, Muslims -- all the "them" and "us". Fugard invites us to go beyond stereotypes: Mr. M is and is not an "informer"; is he murdered or dealt summary street justice? Who is he? Teacher, dreamer, out of touch, a devastated old man, a perennial philosopher? Beyond the easy labels, who are the other characters, Thami and Isabel? I would say they are human beings living through deeply painful conflicts that force them to choose who they want to be and become. I was inspired by their passionate attempts to understand themselves and others and to live (imperfectly, necessarily so) up to their humanity.

There is the question of who can speak for whom: as a white woman, I was uncomfortable with Fugard giving Isabel the last words, from the place that, for Mr. M, symbolized all of Africa. More food for thought, I guess.

"My Children! ..." My World!
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2006-12-30 11:37:34
Link to this Comment: 21365

"A small Eastern Cape Karoo town in the autumn of 1984"? Yes, of course. But also, among other things, "the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960's in America" (and Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia ...). And a classroom at Bryn Mawr College in the fall of 2006. Indeed, any classroom anywhere in the world. And hence in microcosm "My Children! My Africa!" is our world!

Social change, however much we neglect it, or might prefer it otherwise, has always been not the exception but the norm for human cultures. The pace of such change has greatly accelerated in recent centuries and clearly continues to increase, to the point where the price of ignoring it, measured in human suffering and lives, is becoming overwhelming. Mr. M, Isabel, and Thami are characterizations of people in South Africa facing that suffering, and are important for that reason. But they are also, perhaps even more importantly, ourselves.

The classroom setting is central to the play, for it is through education (in classrooms and elsewhere) that we have learned (or not learned) how to deal with social change. And still more importantly, how our children learn (or fail to learn) how to deal with it. It is, of course, our children who will shape the future, and our children who will suffer or prosper in that future.

How many of us insist on an educational process that brings together people of different backgrounds and perspectives, so they can learn how generative such fusions can be, as Isabel did? How many of us insist on an educational process that continually searches for the best in every student, as Mr. M did? And how many of us make the understandable but potentially fatal assumption, as Mr. M also did, that we know enough to say what our children need to know to deal with a changing world and unpredictable future?

Thami had as much to teach Mr. M as Mr. M had to teach him. Can we all come to understand that individuation and transactional exchange is a central component, perhaps the most important component, of the educational process? There may have been a time when the pace of social change was slow enough so that the lessons of the past were a common and adequate foundation to prepare all individuals to participate in the shaping of a satisfying future. But that time, if it ever existed, is long past.

Our future, the future of our children, depends on an educational process that gives each child the wherewithal to shape their own individual lives, and to both learn from and contribute to the learning of others, ourselves included. "My Children! My Africa!" is a powerful reminder of the suffering, both individual and collective, that results when we fail to achieve that. And so is, as well, a pointer along a path to a richer future, not only in Africa but in the United States and world wide.

Isobel Dyson
Name: Thylogale
Date: 2007-01-04 21:40:49
Link to this Comment: 21369

I found Isobel the least convincing of the characters portrayed. She doesn't come across as an 18-year old schoolgirl, even allowing for the attitude of white supremacy that's implied in the role. The naive comments about her relations with the family's black servants and lack of understanding about black people's responses to an invitation to visit her family don't fit with her pedagogic utterances on other topics.

The accent bothered me. She has a very English name, not a name that one would associate with Afrikaners, and notes proudly that she is third generation South African. The material studied for the literature contest is very English, as is her involvement in hockey. I wonder of Fugard wanted her to be Anglo-African and to speak with a much more British accent. That would have been much easier for Ms. Heimbecker, and for the audience. It might also have hinted at the two major white 'cultures' in South Africa and the notion that apartheid (not exactly an English word) was largely a creation of Afrikaans political parties (although most white South Africans seem to support its dissolution).

Date: 2007-01-09 15:30:37
Link to this Comment: 21382

Thylogale's perfunctory statements seem to be inconsistent with the rest ( if not all )of the reviews posted the last few weeks. Why does Thylogale have this view so far off base from the rest?

For instance: "I found Isobel the least convincing of the characters portrayed." versus one review comment had Isobel(Ms. Heimbecher)listed as "Pluperfect". Variety's Toby Zinman: "The performances could not be stronger, clearer or more moving. The tricky accents -- each appropriately different -- sound both authentic and intelligible."

The Accents seem to be one of the biggest interest in the talk backs, Thylogale would have benefitted greatly being there.

Hockey - go to to see how big it is in South Africa.

If Fugard wanted an English speaking character, he could have made Isobel first generation or had new immigrant status, but 3rd generation from that location in Africa, where 95 % of population is Dutch - speak exactly that way. Much credit should be given to all involved, it was quite an accomplishment.

As for 'Ethel R' and 'Winnie' they shouldn't go to a Fugard play then. That's like complaining about the tap dancing in 42nd Street. Fugard gives you what you got - precise words - lots of them, each meaning something or he wouldn't have used them at all.

For 'Sarah T' - she missed the part where the real victims were clearly stated in the show: "The Children" Sarah also has her own "one-dimensional, short-sighted perspective" noting only the Civil Right's Movement. Sarah notes "a land colonized by outsiders who wish to keep an entire segment of the population oppressed." hit home and at the heart of a few Irish people who saw the show also.

Some further thoughts ...
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2007-01-14 13:11:15
Link to this Comment: 21393

Re, among other things, comments on Thylogale et al:

Saw Pan's Labyrinth last night. Different in being about the Spanish civil war rather than the South African struggle against apartheid. But also similar in being about the struggles of children to make sense of worlds whose meanings are different to them than to others (particularly adults) around them. And, I think, similar in that it portrays the tragedies associated with people denying the differing significance/meaning given to things by other people, failing to recognize that each of us has things to learn from each other.

Maybe what's important isn't "the truth" or the "fact of the matter" but instead the sharing of different significances/meanings, out of which comes new significances/meanings for everyone involved in such sharing? Maybe "a view so far off best from the rest" is to be valued for that characteristic rather than challenged? Maybe we all have, inevitably, "one-dimensional, short-sighted perspectives", and what's important isn't to try and show that that is the case for any given perspective of someone else's, but rather to see in what way that perspective can broaden one's own?

Forum Archived
Name: Webmaster
Date: 2007-01-25 21:41:26
Link to this Comment: 21409

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