Bethlehem Press

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Allentown Public Theatre ‘The Island’ at Christ Lutheran Church, Arts Park

Wednesday, April 13, 2016 by The Press in Focus

Allentown Public Theatre presents the South African classic, “The Island,” 7 p.m. April 22, 29, Christ Lutheran Church, 1245 Hamilton St., Allentown, and noon and 5 p.m. April 23, 30 and 2 p.m. April 24, May 1, Allentown Arts Park, Fifth and Court Streets, Allentown.

Written in 1973 during the apartheid era by Athol Fugard, John Kani, and Winston Ntshona, “The Island” tells the story of two political prisoners on Robben Island, the prison where Nelson Mandela was held. They labor by day, but at night, they sustain each other with memories of home and rehearse for a prison performance of the Greek tragedy, “Antigone.” In their portrayal of Antigone’s courage, they give voice to their own dissent. “The Island” is a moving testament to the resilience of the human spirit, even in the face of crushing odds.

In Allentown Public Theatre’s production of the play, directed by Anna Russell, Allentown Public Theatre Artistic Director, an ensemble representing modern-day, American prisoners frames the South African story with music and dance interludes. Through drumming, movement and singing, the ensemble bridges the gap between past and present, and heightens the emotional resonance of the play.

“In a society where mass incarceration, police brutality and ever-growing racial tensions continue to plague our country, this resonance is not hard to find,” said Russell.

In the APT production of The Island, Ryan Fields and Jamil Joseph play John and Winston. The ensemble includes percussionist Vernon J. Mobley, with movement and voices by Chiedu Mbonu and Theophilus Timothy.

APT’s plans to produce “The Island” helped inspire last November’s launch of a year-long, Lehigh Valley-wide arts series, “Voices of Conscience: Toward Racial Understanding.” Organized by Allentown Public Theatre and Crowded Kitchen Players, the series includes music, photography, poetry, theater and other events presented by about a dozen organizations. The goal of “Voices of Conscience” and the APT production of “The Island” is to foster a climate that nurtures the production of socially-conscious art and engages the community in relevant conversation. APT will present an additional private performance of “The Island” for Lehigh County Correctional Center residents.

“The Island” is loosely based on a true story. Fugard, a white South African, formed an interracial theater company. He was rehearsing a production of “Antigone,” with its message of standing up to oppression, when some of his actors were arrested and sent to Robben Island prison, where, word came back, one was doing a one-man version of the Greek tragedy during the lunch hour.

In creating “The Island,” “It was forbidden to mention that Robben Island even existed,” Kani told The New York Times. “But we wanted to make a play about prison because we all knew so many people who were in jail ...”

“The Island” premiered in Capetown under another name to avoid censorship. It toured internationally, including Broadway, where the actors, Kani and Ntshona, shared a Tony Award for Best Actor in 1975.

Tickets: AllentownPublicTheatre.com, 888-895-5645