Review: Blood Knot

Athol Fugard's apartheid fable shows that brotherhood can be skin-deep.

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  • Photograph: Joan Marcus

    Blood Knot

    Blood Knot at Pershing Square Signature Center

  • Photograph: Joan Marcus

    Blood Knot

    Blood Knot at Pershing Square Signature Center

  • Photograph: Joan Marcus

    Blood Knot

    Blood Knot at Pershing Square Signature Center

  • Photograph: Joan Marcus

    Blood Knot

    Blood Knot at Pershing Square Signature Center

Photograph: Joan Marcus

Blood Knot

Blood Knot at Pershing Square Signature Center

Time Out Ratings

<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5

Maybe there's a faint, intended irony in the Signature inaugurating its corporate-financed, $66 million digs (sleek and Gehry-rigged!) with a revival of Blood Knot. It's not that Athol Fugard lacks cultural capital; but his 1961 play depicts the grinding poverty endured by two black South Africans: Morris (Shepherd) and Zachariah (Domingo). You can't help but admire Signature chief James Houghton for plunking down in the middle of his three-stage theatrical Xanadu a third-world shanty shored up with garbage and industrial refuse.

Morris and Zachariah inhabit this pinched hovel. They're brothers—although you wouldn't know by their skin. They share a mother but have different fathers: Morris can pass as Caucasian, while rougher, laboring Zachariah is darker skinned. The contrast between them goes unremarked for most of the play. But when the lonely, girl-hungry Zachariah acquires a pen pal who turns out to be white, the shadow of apartheid looms. A foolish scheme to have Morris impersonate his brother with the help of fancy clothes turns into a fratricidal burlesque of racial codes.

Fugard himself directs the production, meticulous and deeply satisfying to the patient, alert spectator. Although the setup—two dispossessed men in straitened circumstance, fretting over an offstage presence—smacks of Godot, there's a realism here that the actors' sincere, thoughtful playing honestly serves. And when the story takes a sudden turn into the abstractly theatrical, the shift only deepens your appreciation of their fine-etched character work. It's a particular pleasure to see Shepherd (so often deflecting empathy with the Wooster Group) and Domingo (usually riding a high flame of camp) stretch different muscles and sound deep bass notes of humanity, forging a bond that is fraught, but unmistakably brotherly.

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Pershing Square Signature Center. Written and directed by Athol Fugard. With Scott Shepherd, Colman Domingo. 2hrs 30mins. One intermission. See complete event information.

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