It’s equally rare and enthralling for a play to remain as relevant and provocative as it was when it was first performed. For Convergence-Continuum’s production of Statements After an Arrest Under the Immorality Act
, its execution conveys just that, with a story that echoes real-life tales of forbidden romance, such as the 1967 Supreme Court case of Loving v. Virginia. The play discusses interracial relationships in a way that still rings true, even in a more progressive world.
Written by prolific South African playwright Athol Fugard, Statements After an Arrest
depicts a romantic relationship in its most stripped-down and purest form, quite literally: two lovers, nude and sprawled out on the floor, each spouting their desires, problems and fears. Frieda Joubert (Jill Kenderes), a white woman, and Errol Philander (Corin Self), a black man, find themselves embroiled in a forbidden love as, under the titular Immorality Act during apartheid in South Africa, it is unlawful for interracial people to be together.
Due to this unavoidable hurdle, the two find themselves sneaking around and making love in Joubert’s office at the library in which she works. What first appears to be pillow talk and some academic exchanges becomes progressively bitter and combative, as they reveal details about themselves and the origins of their relationship are made more apparent. Philander finds immense shame in his fling with Joubert, and sees himself as a lesser man because of it. Joubert brushes aside his feelings as pride and even arrogance, which causes them to bicker even more, despite their attempts to appeal to each other’s intellectual sides.
However, their problems fail to begin and end with just each other as they are being watched by the staunch police detective Sergeant J. du Perez (Soren Russell), whose investigation, sparked by a nosy neighbor, brings his team closer to uncovering their affair. Joubert and Philander find themselves simultaneously facing the law and each other’s distinct viewpoints of the world.
In his career, renowned director Terrence Spivey has never been one to shy away from addressing race relations and presenting them without any filters or censors, and this production is certainly no exception. The nudity in the play isn’t played off as a crutch or lure, but rather an organic element of the story. Some may find the non-sexualized nature of it refreshing.
There is an overarching theme of feeling exposed— both literally and metaphorically— as the dialogue places a spotlight on how conflicted Joubert and Philander are and how they attempt to show each other their perspectives as well as their apprehensions.
There is no shortage of raw passion between Kenderes and Self, who portray Joubert and Philander’s rocky relationship without being overly dramatic. Both have their moments to shine in their monologues, Kenderes breaking down and leaving everything out on the stage while Self waxes poetic, baring his soul with a twinge of equal parts sorrow and fear. The strongest moments of the production come with the more simplistic scenes of Kenderes and Self just talking, feeding off each other’s energy.
Much praise is due for dialect coach Chuck Ritchie for helping the actors craft their authentic South African accents. It’s easy to tell a lot of time was taken to create these voices to further immerse the audience in the experience.
Russell, in his Cleveland debut after tenured experience across the country, is tasked with a layered accent with hints of South African and French and almost Scottish tendencies, and uses that voice to fully engage the audience with his quirky, fluctuating tone.
The play feels a perfect fit for the folks at Convergence-Continuum. The primary of the play, inside Joubert’s cramped office space, is decorated from head to toe with books and knick-knacks by scenic and lighting designer Cory Molner. The use of spotlights to separate the actions of Joubert and Philander from the watchful eye of detective de Perez works nicely. There are even some impressive strobe effects in the moments depicting the police arriving to bombard the couple with photographic evidence of their illegal affair.
That being said, Fugard’s script has its weak points. Tonal shifts plague otherwise perfectly fine scenes. Heavy-handed instances of Jim Crow posturing and stilted, sophomoric philosophy lessons feel unnecessary at best and jarring at its worst. That is at least when it is compared to the complex subtleties of Joubert and Philander’s relationship. The script is of course written for the purpose of showcasing romance through the lens of an immoral law, but its contradictory nature to the otherwise sharp writing cheapens some of the more emotional moments.
Regardless, Spivey and company have produced this particular play in probably the best way it can be done: with nothing held back, and letting the words on the page speak for themselves without an excess of flash. The production has a ubiquitous appeal in its ability to illustrate a relationship in a truly visceral, unrestrained manner. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more hard-hitting drama.
Through June 15 at the Convergence-Continuum Theatre (2438 Scranton Rd.) Tickets and info: convergence-continuum.org.
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