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Zakes Mokae theatre 1980s

Mr. Mokae… plays Zach with a brooding intensity,
rising from quiescence to contempt.
(Mel Gussow, New York Times, 24 Sept 1985)

Mokae continues his film and theatre career simultaneously, and revives Fugard's Blood Kmot, Master Harold and Boesman & Lena.

An Attempt at Flying 

Yordan Radichkov's An Attempt at Flying 1980 performed at the Yale Repertory Company from 28 Apr to 16 May 1981, at the Yale Repertory Theatre.  The director was Maladen Kiselov and scene designer was Michael Yeargen.  Mokae played Sweet Basil.

"Everything in this comical and dramatic story begins with a wandering balloon that broke free from the World War II fronts. It suddenly appears above the rural Avramovi hamlets. The event leads to several groups being formed to go after the balloon." (description from programata here).

Zakes Mokae An Attempt at Flying 

"This is a folk fable about dreams blockaded by a repressive society. It is a picaresque comedy - a wild balloon chase - a sardonic political satire and a serious overview of mankind trying to escape from reality" (New York Times, Mel Gussow, 7 July 1981).

Yale programme images from issuu site here.


Athol Fugard  A Lesson from Aloes 1980, 1981

A Lesson from Aloes

First performed in 1978 the play was written in the 1960s. Fugard directed the premiere in Johannesburg. He directed Zakes Mokae and James Earl Jones in the play (Mokae as understudy).  In 1981 Fugard directed Maria Tucci, Harris Yulin and Zakes Mokae at the Playhouse Theatre.  The play seems to start off as a domestic drama with husband and wife Piet and Gladys expecting visitors.  Piet´s life was changed when he joined a political demonstration, but now he is suspected of being a police informer. The visitor Steve is an activist but he is giving up his politics to go into exile. They meet to say goodbye. But Gladys has her own torments.

Athol Fugard  Master Harold...and the Boys 1982

Master Harold

Based on a childhood incident when Fugard spat at a servant. The play, from 1982, was rated number 50 on the Royal National Theatre´s most significant plays of the twentieth century.  Mokae played Sam in the premiere at Yale in 1982 and received a Tony award for his performance. 

Critic Richard Gilman says "Master Harold"... and the boys had a limited run in its world premiere at the Yale Repertory Theatre, but it is certain to come to New York City.  One hopes that in its reincarnation it will have the same actors who played Willie and Sam ay Yale.  Zakes Mokae as Sam and Danny Glover as Willie are extraordinarily good: they press for nothing, underscore no emotions, but ride easily along the swell of the textual wave. (Nation, 1 May 1982, reproduced in The Drama is Coming Now: The Theatre Criticism of Richard Gilman, Yale University Press, 2005).

Mokae also starred in the film version.  Danny Glover is Willie and Lonny Price is Hally.

Lonny Price, Zakes Mokae, Danny Glover in Master Harold

"Master Harold's conclusion is one of the most powerful that Broadway has experienced in many seasons, and the play itself is alternately funny and incisive, never less than absorbing.  The performances of Mokae, Glover and Price, under the author's direction, are virtually flawless".  The quote is by Catherine Hughes in Plays and Players, July 1982.  The photo is from the same magazine.  The photo below shows Danny Glover and Zakes Mokae. From Theatre Winter 1982.

Mokae and Danny Glover in Blood Knot

Athol Fugard Blood Knot 1985

Blood Knot 

Fugard rewrote his early success The Blood Knot (with a slight name change to Blood Knot), bringing it to a manageable performance length.  This 25th anniversary revival in 1985 at the Yale Repertory Theatre was again performed by Fugard and Mokae.

Mel Gussow writes in the New York Times, 24 Sept 1985:

"… the revival certifies the play's position as a contemporary classic. As both a deeply human experience and a symbolic statement on the anguish of apartheid, ''The Blood Knot'' is undiminished in its power.

Though the roles are equal, Morris is the catalyst, stirring his brother and, later, himself, into self awareness. Morris is emotionally repressed, in contrast to the outgoing Zach. In previous productions, through force of personality, Zach has tended to dominate the drama, as was the case in the New York premiere starring James Earl Jones. One distinct difference in this authorized version is that, as intended, the play is seen from Morris's point of view.

Even as Zach goes through his nightly rituals, soaking his tired feet in a basin of bath salts, we are aware of his brother's watchful, supervisory attitude. Morris's obsessive concern is attempted compensation for his own inadequacy and his overwhelming sense of guilt...

Mr. Mokae… plays Zach with a brooding intensity, rising from quiescence to contempt and turning a moment of playacting into a moving recapitulation of the plight of the black man in South Africa.

The two men are carried away by their game, forced into inevitable roles as antagonists. Together, they try to bridge the abyss. Even without a future to look forward to, the brothers cling to hope..."

Blood Knot credits

This production was directed by Athol Fugard. Susan Hilferty was responsible for costimes, Rusty Smith- settings, William B. Warfel- lighting, Margaret Adair- production stage manager. 

 The cartoon of Mokae and Fugard is from the Hirschfeld archive- click on the image for the link.

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Alexandre Dumas  The Count of Monte Cristo 1985

Alexandre Dumas 

A stage version of the novel by Alexandre Dumas (above) novel directed by Peter Sellars by the American National Theater.  It ran between 9 May and 22 Jun 1985.  Richard Thomas, Roscoe Lee Browne, Patti LuPone and Michael O'Keefe acted alongside Zakes Mokae.  Mokae played M. Gerard de Villefort.  "The casting of Zakes Mokae, an actor closely associated with the plays of Athol Fugard, brought to The Count of Monte Cristo a sense that the drama might reflect the present situation in South Africa". The quotation comes from here:

"Peter Sellars's debut at the Kennedy Center: an audacious The Count of Monte Cristo Adapted from play by Alexandre Dumas. May 24, 1985

Watching director Peter Sellars's version of ``The Count of Monte Cristo'' is like hurtling over Niagara Falls in an elegant barrel. Full of thrills and spills and foam, it ends -- after a dark, closed, and perilous journey -- on a safe shore. But that's nearly four hours later. Meanwhile Sellars takes us on a terrific ride, a pell-mell race through melodrama drenched in laughter, hisses, boos, and tears. From the first glimpse of the Eisenhower Theater's stage -- huge, darkened, seething with intrigue -- it is clear that Peter Sellars is twirling his mustachios with glee.

For his Kennedy Center directing debut, Sellars has transformed the 19th-century play, which actor James O'Neill (father of playwright Eugene O'Neill)...

From the moment the curtain goes up, it's obvious that Sellars is one of the most innovative and daring directors in the theater today. He exposes the entire stage -- catwalks, ceiling, back wall, lights, ropes -- and leaves much of it mysteriously black, creating a great cavern in which the melodrama reverberates and eventually becomes tragedy...

Zakes Mokae chilling but occasionally hard to understand as the king's prosecutor..." (by Louise Sweeney in The Christian Science Monitor, 24 May 1985).

Frank Rich in the new York Time (20 May 1985) is less positive: "Although the cast boasts some excellent actors, they are often encouraged to caricature their past work. The sonorous, apparitional presence of that fine Beckett interpreter David Warrilow is milked for near-parodistic Beckett pastiche. Tony Azito's hysterical clowning, Roscoe Lee Browne's stentorian voice and Miss LuPone's tart sexuality are similarly ill-used. Both Michael O'Keefe and Zakes Mokae seem lost."

Athol Fugard  Boesman and Lena 1985

Boesman and Lena revisited, this time directed by Mokae at Centerstage, Baltimore. 

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