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Zakes Mokae theatre 60s-70s

In a few cases- notably Zakes Mokae...individual actors stand out from the company
(Gerald Weales, Commonweal 7 May 1993)

Mokae moved to America and continued his theatre success, both with revivals of Blood Knot (as the play was retitled from The Blood Knot,  after a rewrite by Fugard to bring it to a manageable length) and modern American plays.

Wole Soyinka  The Trials of Brother Jero 1966

Wole Soyinka cover

Mokae played Jeroboam in a production by Athol Fugard at The Round House in South Africa and Inglewood Playhouse in California.  The Times (17 June 1966) says "... a satirical comedy, featuring a cunning prophet (played by Zaikes Mokae) whose brand of Christianity works to his own advantage".  Note the misspelling of Zakes.

An earlier attempt in South Africa was abandoned. The audience were "...a white Port Elizabeth "theatre appreciation" group who, having asked to see a sample of their work, were expecting a comedy, Wole Soyinka's Brother Jero. But since the Native Commissioner would permit performance in a "white area" only on condition the black performers did not use the toilets, and returned to the township after the show, the Players (after bitter debate) decided to do a reading of The Coat" (from Crossing boundaries: the genesis of the township plays by Dennis Walder, Twentieth Century Literature (Vol. 39, Issue 4, Winter 1993),Hofstra University.

Athol Fugard Blood Knot 1971

Zakes Mokae and Ian Bannen in Blod Knot by Fugard

Another revival of Blood Knot.  Photo of Mokae in Blood Knot from Theatre Winter 1982.

Athol Fugard  Boesman and Lena 1970 and 1971

Boesman and Lena

Mary Benson in Bare Stage quotes Fugard "I've dredged up a trio of real derelicts this time. I'm called Boesman, the woman is Lena and the third character is something of an indeterminate verminous and dying age called Outa". Benson says she realised the play, from 1969, had its roots in Fugard´s relationship with his wife Sheila.  Mokae was not in the South African premiere, but in the NY version in 1970 directed by John Berry with the minor role of Outa, playing alongside James Earl Jones and Ruby Dee.  When the play transferred to the Royal Court in London on 19 Aug 1971 Mokae took over the lead role of Boesman.

Zakes Mokae in Boesman and Lena

Eugene O'Neill  The Emperor Jones 1971

The Emperor Jones - James Earl Jones

James Earl Jones (above) has the lead role of an emperor of the Caribbean and his downfall. Mokae plays Lem.  The play is almost a monologue for James Earl Jones, who is excellent in the role, resonating like Orson Welles. Mokae´s role is in Act VIII with slight dialogue.  Stefan Gierasch and Osceola Archer also appear.  Directed by Theodore Mann.

"Zakes Mokae, the 27-year-old actor playing Lem, did the witch doctor's chant with such a fiery intensity that held everyone rapt. A South African, Mr. Mokae chanted in Sotho, using words appro priate to the play's action. What may have helped him, he guessed, is that his 'mother's father is a witch doctor'" (McCandlish Phillips, New York Times, 25 Jul 1970).

There is also an audio recording of the production.

Ronald Ribman Fingernails Blue as Flowers 1971-72

Fingernails Blue as Flowers by Ronald Ribman.  Mokae acts alongside Albert Paulsen, Pamela Shaw, Larry Block and Karli Dwyer.  Martin Fried directed at The American Place, NY in a double bill with Lake of the Woods by Steve Tesich with 33 performances from 6 Dec 1971 to 8 Jan 1972 (dates from ITDb- here).

Fingernails is a short 40 minute experimental play.  Naville is self-important "Do you know who I am?" but is unable to get service from the waiter (Mokae) "May I be of service... May I return to you in a moment? I must get the order of those young gentlemen".

Naville's threat "If you ever do that to me again, I will destroy you, totally, completely" is ignored.

Zakes Mokae in Fingernails Blue as Flowers

Mokae left as Waiter with Albert Paulsen as Eugene Naville and Pamela Shaw as Estelle Singer.

The play is poetic but possibly too wordy at times for the stage "quite suddenly we have grown much older and find ice crystals forming in the mouth, closing down our speech, paralyzing our tongue, findernails blue as flowers".

Zakes Mokae Fingernals Blue as Flowers

Credits from programme above.  Photo and quotes from The American Place Theatre: Plays edited by Richard Schotter, 1973.

Lorraine Hansberry A Raisin in the Sun 1972

A Raisin in the Sun 

Hansberry´s play of a black American family who receive $10,000, but each member has other ideas on what to do with the money.  Mokae plays Joseph Asagai, the African who questions why the black women straighten their hair and reject their heritage.  There is an audio cassette available of the performance.  Mokae´s voice is of course superb.

"In this powerful American classic, a black family desperately struggles to maintain its dignity, self-respect and humanity. When the Younger family receives a life insurance settlement, they suddenly have a way to realize the American dream. But the family becomes divided over Mrs' Younger's plan to use the money to escape their Southside Chicago tenement and move to a white, middle-class neighborhood" (from description on cassette).

Anton Chekhov  The Cherry Orchard 1973

Produced as part of the NY Shakespeare Festival at Public Theatre.  Mokae plays the old servant Firs.

Clive Barnes in his review says "The production, which has been conceived by James Earl Jones… uses only black actors. It seems like a manifesto. In a sense it is.  Why black and why Chekhov? One reason could be that the ambiance of the play has some particular relevance to the black revolution. It hasn't...

For me the staging never quite took fire. Chekhov's plays exist on a knife-edge balance of their own awareness. Without this communicated sensibility they can even be boring. Despite certain exceptions in the cast, the performance missed the real life and awareness of the play...

But the best performance undoubtedly came from James Earl Jones as the property developer, Lopahin. It was a perfect reading of the role, understated and yet incisive. With a nervous shuffle and despairing grin, Mr. Jones dominated the stage with a truthfulness his colleagues never quite matched....  this production needs rather more life, vigor and insight. (from New York Times, 12 Jan 1973).

Ronald Tavel  The Last Days of British Honduras 1974

Produced as part of the NY Shakespeare Festival at The American Place.

Clive Barnes in The New York Times, 6 Nov 1974, states "Ronald Tavel has written a mystic mystery play, “The Last Days of British Honduras,” which opened last night at the Other Stage of the New York Shakespeare Festival Public Theater complex on Lafayette Street.

Mr. Tavel has set his play in the British colony of British Honduras, during a plebiscite to determine independence undertaken in September, 1970. A young American, a student of archeology and astronomy, finds himself in a Honduras jail for what seems to be a minor visa offense. It soon becomes apparent that he is no ordinary student. A young Indian boy visits him in jail with some strange books. Soon they are discussing mythology...

There is another prisoner in the jail, a black called Rabbit. It becomes evident that Rabbit can be in two places at once. Mr. Tavel has thrown a great deal of plot into his play, rather as if he were stuffing a turkey. There is a black politician awaiting the election results that he confidently thinks will make him premier, a C.I.A. agent who sells grass, the American's girl friend and a guide who are lost in the jungle and held hostage by a Mayan warrior from outer space. The play is far from uneventful."

Evan Blake  Mid-Century Blues 1977

A one-act play that take audience members back to a time when the Blues and Big Band comforted a nation at war.  The play combines Blake's Tio's Blues and American Blues.

Zakes Mokae directed, at the Winchester Centre.


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