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THE BELOVED Country is still thriving. We make some few concessions to conscience: PBH will send no volunteer teachers to Rhodesia this year and President Goheen of Princeton agreed last month to stop investing in companies whose fortunes fall from South Africa. But the liberal corporatism of Chase Manhattan and Standard Oil still shores up the regime.
Athol Fugard's The Blood Knot came out of South Africa eight years ago. It was first produced in Johannesburg in 1960--its black and white actors had to be called "guests" to perform together in the theatre workshop. Blood Knot ran off-Broadway in 1964; with half of its two-man cast unchanged, it is now presented by the Theatre Company of Boston.
To produce Blood Knot in South Africa was daring. In the shanty on stage, two brothers, Zachariah and Morris, are in hiding from the hatred that apartheid demands they show each other. Morris has tried unsuccessfully to pass for a white; he now idles time with a forty-five pound six-quid dream of a farm. Zachariah works as a gate-keeper to chase the black kids away from the public park; he brings home only nostalgia over good times and women.
Tension between the two men keeps Blood Knot from being a mawkish paean to poverty. John Dullaghan, who played Morris off-Broadway, mumbles like a flat-car hobo that he was forced to come back to Zachariah from his guilt at trying to pass. With a frog-legged squat and a patchquilt beard he nags and cajoles Zachariah not to leave him.
In the same feminine peevish tone Morris proposes that Zachariah substitute a pen-pal correspondence with Ethel for his former carousing. Zachariah (James Spruill, a Boston University Fellow and director of the New African Company), only leers good-naturedly at the suggestion, Ethel: sixteen, white, and well-developed. Though wiser than Morris in knowing that dialogue does not replace sensual aspirations, in furrow-browed innocence Zachariah sees no reason why he should fear making it directly with his white pen-pal.
What does not hang well in this Blood Knot is the awkward handling of the asides and soliloquies that reveal the brothers' fears about color: Zachariah's awakening to the constraints his blackness will impose and Morris's guilt for passing as white. That apartheid distorts their lives is evident when they panic at Ethel's proposed visit, but the symbolic ballet of their hatred for each other's color seems a detached, out-of-joint afterthought to the play.
The theatre in which Blood Knot is being given is a relic from the age of movie palaces. A second-story rotunda gapes above the lobby and fleurs-delis peel from the dome over the stage. There are new pastel stripes painted on the lobby floor, but the heart of the place is in decay. So the theatre, and so the Country.
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