Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
March 25, 2011
A joke played on an unsuspecting traveler nearly takes him over the edge, forcing him to confront his own and his country’s worst nightmare. Smith wanders into an isolated guesthouse on the windswept western coast of South Africa , and all hell breaks loose. The deep-rooted problems of his homeland are played out in a bracing three-way game of cat-and-mouse.
Welcoming Smith to the inn are its two wintertime caretakers: an affable, accommodating black man and a bitter, brutal white man. On this bleak, blustery night, a buoy-bell sets the tone and keeps the rhythm, as tensions rise and tempers boil.
Thami and Johan have big plans for striking it rich. They’re hoping to convince Smith to invest in their scheme to take over an abandoned diamond mine. All they need is capital. Smith has money, but he also has resentment. A former investment banker, he was pushed into premature retirement by the taking over of white jobs by black workers in the post-apartheid period. He’s not interested in their caper; in fact, he thinks the mine concessions are a government scam. He’s ready to celebrate his newfound freedom, and that doesn’t include helping others find theirs, though Johan does everything imaginable to inflame his guilt.
Brash, abrasive Johan takes charge of the ‘negotiations,’ which head south from the get-go. The more desperate he becomes, the more violent. He’s carrying as much baggage as dreams: age and injury may prohibit him from working any more; he doesn’t have time to fool around. Thami has been plodding along at his own pace, trying to save money, get back to his impoverished wife and children, and in supporting them, prove that he’s a man.
The disparate life-plans ultimately collide in a vicious confrontation. Clearly, every class has suffered from the monstrous policy of apartheid; in his own way, each of these men is displaced and disaffected.
In this 2009 thriller, “Groundswell,” writer Ian Bruce plays for high stakes, and the Old Globe production, deftly directed by UCSD acting professor Kyle Donnelly , ratchets up the suspense and intensity. In a last-minute cast change, Owiso Odera, a talented UCSD alumnus who performed in the 2008 Summer Shakespeare Festival at the Globe, stepped in and made Thami his own, a frightened but determined young black man whose fortitude, resolve and hope exceed those of his white counterparts: Ned Schmidtke’s affably steely Smith, and Antony Hagopian’s Johan, an angry, resentful hothead who, at the enigmatic end, has nothing left and nothing left to lose.
The three play off each other marvelously, in a well appointed set, backed by a wonderfully evocative soundscape. Like the characters, we onlookers are totally swept up in the Groundswell.
“Groundswell” continues through April 17 in the Old Globe’s Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre.
©2011 PAT LAUNER