Quote of the Day: Be careful where your words take you. Athol Fugard
“Blood Knot is a parable of two brothers, one white and one black, in the racially segregated system of apartheid in South Africa. It was first performed in Johannesburg in September 1961.” Carlyle Brown, Assistant Director for the Pillsbury House Theatre production. It was shut down the next day.
In the intimate space of the Pillsbury House Theatre, we are mere feet from the tiny hut that is home to brothers Zachariah (James A. Williams) and Morris (Stephen Yoakam). The play opens with Morris getting up and preparing for his brother to come home from work. Zach’s job is to stand at a gate all day and his feet are sore and calloused. Morris prepares water and finds healing salts for him, caring for his brother, washing his feet. Their relationship seems good. Morris has been away for a while, but has recently returned and is living with his brother. We don’t really know where he went, but it seems like the reason he came back was to be with his brother.
During the apartheid in South Africa it was against the law for Black and White people to be together. Any relations at all were forbidden. They could be jailed, beaten, even killed. Children born from such a relationship were called Colored and were in a class all their own. They could even be taken away from their parents if they didn’t look enough like them, if the child’s skin was too light. This wasn’t exactly clear in the play, but I’ve been listening to Trevor Noah’s memoir, Born a Crime, where he explains this. He is a child of mixed race parents.
In Fugard’s protest play, Blood Knot, Morris and Zachariah have the same mother, but different fathers. After Morris leaves, for many years, he comes back and seems “more white,” according to Zach. The more white Morris gets the more racist he becomes. In a scene in Act II, Morris puts on a suit that looks like it could belong to a rich, white man. He gets meaner as he puts on each item of clothing. Once he puts on the hat, he takes on a cruel personality. They play out a scene where he walks through the gate where Zach is a guard, and it turns ugly. I kept thinking of the phrase, “The clothes make the man.” What he wears, how he carries himself, and his attitudes exude from the fabrics of his life. The clothes (costumes by Trevor Bowen) are important in telling this story.
Williams and Yoakam are veterans of the stage. They are masters of their craft. I was thoroughly swept up in their relationship as brothers, of the types of people they portrayed in a horrible time in the history of South Africa. I felt like I was watching two real life brothers interact. (I have four sons. Three of them saw the show with me.) They care for each other, irritate each other, help one another navigate life and relationships, and they fight, but in the end they are bound together. They are family. They share a blood knot that can’t be broken, no matter how broken they are.
Blood Knot is a powerful play, intimate, daring, and provocative. If you have a chance to see it, go. From the director Stephen DiMenna, creative consultant Marion McClinton to evocative sound (Katharine Horowitz) and lighting design (Michael Wangen) and the set (Joseph Stanley) we are transported to another time and place. Although we don’t understand everything that’s happening, the political nuance, or the symbolism, we feel the emotions of the characters and the thoughtful outpouring of a playwright who hoped to create change.
You can see Blood Knot at the Pillsbury House Theatre in Minneapolis, MN through June 16, 2019. And, if you’re looking to grab some dinner before the show, go to Jakeeno’s Pizza and Pasta restaurant, just a block away from the theater. My boys and I enjoyed all the food!!
Go. Create. Inspire!
Journaling Prompt: Have you ever had the experience where several things in your life work together? How much do you know about the history of South Africa and apartheid?
It just happened that we are reading (in my case listening to the Audible, read by the author) Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime for book club this month, which helped me understand Athol Fugard’s play Blood Knot, which makes me want to do learn more about South Africa, its history, and Nelson Mandela.