Review "The Island" at Remy Bumppo: Fugard in The Collaborator!

Remy Bumppo presentsthe island

The Island

At Greenhouse Theatre Center

2257 N. Lincoln

Written by Athol Fugard, John Kani and Winston Ntshona

Directed by James Bohnen

Thru March 7th

Running Time: Ninety minutes (no intermission)

An extended stay on an island sounds wondrous in Chicago’s brutal winter. Not in Fugard’s world! Remy Bumppo presents The Island by playwright Athol Fugard, a play within a play about injustice. Two men have been condemned to a maximum security prison on Robben Island. Their crime is being black in South Africa during apartheid rule. They decide to entertain fellow prisoners with a scene from Sophocles’ Antigone. The Island is the story of two castaways sentenced to friendship.

Director James Bohnen opens the show with an extended (a little too long) pantomime of the prisoners’ work assignment. It’s effective in silently emphasizing the lunacy of the correctional facility. The juxtaposition between La Shawn Banks (John) and Kamal Angelo Bolden (Winston) working on the beach and chatting in their cell is a fascinating twist. It’s a two-man show with their relationship center stage. Banks has a wonderful scene of make believe talking on the phone. What better for a play within a play than acting within acting? Bolden rages in emotion with a fierce stare that I wouldn’t want to come up against in prison. It’s his expressive eyes and buff stature that make his drag version of Antigone an amusing vision. Their forced “marriage” as cellmates is best illustrated in a choreographed chained together run. The action takes place on a stark set. Tim Morrison has built a stage that is a cross between a boardwalk and a raft. The set, plus a soundtrack of ocean waves rolling in and African tribal music (designed by Victoria Deiorio), continue to emphasize the African island location.

Fugard’s The Island is #2 in a three play series, Fugard Chicago 2010, celebrating the work of Athol Fugard. .Although the story, acting, directing, and set position this to be a gripping powerful piece, The Island just floats. Not quite a shipwreck, the script lacks compelling depth. Tony Award winning actors, John Kani and Winston Ntshona are credited in the collaborative writing of this Fugard piece. The Island characters are named John and Winston. Hmmmm. I imagine a 1970’s evening at the Fugard home. Having indulged in fondue excess, Kani and Ntshona begin improv-ing two cellmates and Fugard types up their dialogue. They say, “no man is an island.” Maybe with The Island, Fugard should have been.

Someone who would be an entertaining cellmate, James says the show is “deftly done drama.”

Three theatre companies will showcase Athol Fugard’s work. Timeline kicked off Fugard Chicago 2010 with the production Master Harold’… and The Boys showing now thru March 21stRemy Bumppo is featuring The Island from January 27th through March 7th and Court Theatre will produce Sizwe Banzi is Dead from May 13th through June 13th .


Pre-show, we sidestep off Lincoln and go to Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinders, 2121 N. Clark Street.  This place is never deserted.  To avoid the crowd especially en route to a show, our 5:45 arrival is ideal.  We sit immediately.  Sure, it’s named as a pizza joint but it’s the salad and Mediterranean bread that attract the crowds.  It’s an ordinary iceberg lettuce salad with onions, tomatoes, olives and cucumbers.  The poppy seed and Italian dressing arrive at the table.  Mix ’em for a tasty treat.  Served up with the oversized but thin Mediterranean bread, it an extraordinary combo! This makes a tasty meal in itself but we also split a veggie oven grinder. Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinders is a great alternative to getting stranded on Lincoln with limited choices en route to  The Island.

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