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CONTRIBUTED PHOTOJohn (Ryan Fields) and Winston (Jamil Joseph), “The Island,” April 29 - May 1, Allentown Public Theatre Copyright - Kenneth Ek CONTRIBUTED PHOTOJohn (Ryan Fields) and Winston (Jamil Joseph), “The Island,” April 29 - May 1, Allentown Public Theatre Copyright - Kenneth Ek

Theatre Review: APT visits ‘The Island’

Thursday, April 28, 2016 by PAUL WILLISTEIN in Focus

The sound of a drummer fills Christ Lutheran Church, Allentown, as four men in khaki prison garb dance rhythmically and in unison down the outside aisles. Two continue dancing and a drummer continues drumming in the center aisle. The other two walk onto the stage.

The setting for “The Island,” which continues April 29, 30 and May 1, is Robben Island (where Nelson Mandela was held), South Africa. The actors on stage, John (Ryan Fields) and Winston (Jamil Joseph), are prisoners. The two dancers (Chiedu Mbonu, Theophilus Timothy) and drummer (Vernon J. Mobley) augment the dialogue on stage with drumming and dancing during between-scene segues.

John is the driving force for the first half of the one-act, one-hour and 20-minute drama, cajoling Winston into participating in a production of Sophocles’ “Antiqone” in what seems to be a prison talent show. John will play Creon. Winston is reluctant to play the female role of Antigone.

The balance shifts when John learns he is soon to be released from prison. Winston must continue to serve his term. Winston relents and plays Antigone.

“The Island,” written by Athol Fugard, John Kani and Winston Ntshona, is presented by Allentown Public Theatre and directed by Anna Russell, APT artistic director.

“The Island,” which opened in 1974 in the Edison Theatre, received Tony Awards for Play and Actor in a Play.

The Allentown Public Theatre production’s raised and raked stage creates an island, if you will, of visibility and intimacy in the cavernous Christ Lutheran Church sanctuary.

The plain-spoken dialogue, peppered with profanity, bespeaks of two frustrated men at wits’ end. Fields plays the role of John with the right touch of levity. Joseph plays Winston with deep bitterness and resignation.

Russell directs with a realism that transcends the minimalist staging, lighting and production values. The production has the quality of Brechtian theater, a kind of “Waiting for ‘Antigone.’” Here, “Antigone” arrives, but not as the prisoners or the audience expects.

The actors are convincing in their portrayals. The change in dyamics between John and Winston is managed well by the actors. The underlying dramatic tension is compelling under Russell’s direction.

The often poetic dialogue leads to a dream sequence of alter ego. There is also singing with background harmony and drumming.

“The Island” is a captivating visit to a place not so far away.

“The Island” is part of the Lehigh Valley arts series, “Voices of Conscience: Toward Racial Understanding.” Allentown Public Theatre is presenting a private performance for Lehigh County Correctional Center residents.

“The Island,” Allentown Public Theatre, 7 p.m. April 28, Christ Lutheran Church, 1245 Hamilton St., Allentown; noon, 5 p.m. April 29 and 2 p.m. May 1, Allentown Arts Park, Fifth and Court streets, Allentown. Tickets, at the venue and:, 888-895-5645