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Zakes Mokae directing


I leave acting to the actors. I've been acting for too long
(interview by Ken White, Neon, 12 Mar 1999)

Mokae remains with Fugard and modern American drama, particularly August Wilson, and moves from acting to directing.


Tug Yourgrau The Song of Jacob Zulu

The Somg of Jacob Zuld 

Tug Yourgrau´s The Song of Jacob Zulu about South African terrorism, performed in Perth, Australia and in Chicago by the Steppenwolf company and then on Broadway.  " This is the song of a young man called Jacob Zulu... Who suffered for the sins of South Africa... It is taking the children,  It is eating the future" (Act One Scene 1).  Directed by Eric Simonson.  Music was by Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

The Song of Jacob Zulu - K.Todd Freeman and Zakes Mokae

Photo copyright © Jack Mitchell

"Yourgrau's play about the making of a black South African terrorist was raw but unforgettable in Eric Simonson's epic staging, brought to Broadway by Chicago's Steppenwolf troupe. K.Todd Freeman glowed in the title role, Zakes Mokae excelled as several elders..." (Time, 3 Jan 1994).

Playwright Tug Yourgrau says "Improvisations by the actors, in workshops and later in the rehearsals, played a very important part in fleshing out the okay.  I am indebted to all the actors, but I especially want to single out the magnificent work of Zakes Mokae, who created three roles" (Introduction to play, Arcade Publishing NY, 1993).

Mokae's three roles:

- Rev. Hezekaya Zulu, "a middle-aged black minister wearing an old dark suit".  Rev. Zulu is the father of Jacob Zulu and believes if they cooperate with the police Jacob will be free.

-  Mr. X, "a middle-aged black man whose real name is Donald Thwala".  Mr X was a member of the the Spear of the Nation, the military wing of the ANC.  He leads Jacob  on to the act of terrorism - Jacob "held the bag in one hand, and with the other hand he took the bomb out of the bag, and put it in the bin... I thought when the bomb exploded, the building would collapse and people would get killed".  Mr X is now an informer for the police.

-  Itshe ,"a black man in his early forties wearing a shabby raincoat".  He meets Jacob near the Swaziland border.  When Jacob says he was previously jailed for three days, Itshe tells of his eleven years hard labour "But those white warders, man... you know how they count prisoners?  Make you lie down on the floor and walk on your face with their fucking boots".

Mokae received a Tony nomination for his performance.

Jacob Zulu's fate
Photo copyright © Jack Mitchell

"I wanted white people to die.  Oh God, forgive me for I have sinned.  I have shamed my parents, I have shamed the ANC". Jacob Zulu's fate.

Zakes Mokae The Song of Jacob Zulu

Cast list from the programme, Plymouth Theatre production.  Quotes and extracts of photos from the book (Arcade Publishing, NY, 1993).
Photos are copyright © Jack Mitchell included with kind permission from Jack Mitchell Archives https://www.jackmitchell.com.


Angus Wilson Seven Guitars 1995

Seven Guitars 

Seven Guitars by August Wilson on tour in the USA from 1995.

A curious production with Zakes Mokae's performance reviewed as "brilliantly rendered" then later "deemed... to have been miscast and he was dismissed".

John Papageorge writes "In another strong performance in an exceptional cast, actor Zakes Mokae commands attention with an intense conviction to character when ranting about a mythical man who'll bring him riches, his dream of owning his own plantation and an episode in which he confesses to killing a man who made fun of his birth name".  A three and a half hour performance.  In the initial performances in Boston Mokae, brought in after last minute cast changes, read the lines on-stage from the script.

"Wilson is always interested in things spiritual and in how the mystical intersects with real life. Here, as brilliantly rendered by Zakes Mokae, Hedley is Wilson's most deeply symbolic character. Hedley once killed a man who refused to call him by the name his father gave him, which was King. "After that," he tells Ruby, "I don't tell nobody my name is King." Everyone considers him crazy, he says, because he knows "the people is too small." They need a leader, "somebody to be the father of the man to lead the black man out of bondage. Maybe," he suggests, looking pointedly at young Ruby, "I'm the father of the messiah." (Mari Coates, 22 Nov 1995 in sfweekly).

A totally different review by Bruce Weber in the New York Times 24 Mar 1996 is

"Boston was where Zakes Mokae joined the cast as Hedley, and though Mr. Wilson had written the part with him in mind, there proved to be an unresolvable conflict between the actor and the role.

Mr. Mokae is a South African... and he never seemed comfortable with the more lilting rhythms of West Indian English. His problems were increased by the fact that Hedley was undergoing major changes in the playwright's mind; his part was growing as his ambiguous relationships with the other characters began to cry out for clarification.

By San Francisco, Mr. Mokae was deemed, reluctantly- by Mr. Wilson, Mr. Richards and Benjamin Mordecai, the show's lead producer - to have been miscast and he was dismissed after opening night. Offered the chance to complete the run, he chose to leave immediately."

Image from Huntington Theatre Company website here.


Angus Wilson Fences 1999

Angus Wilson Fences

Mokae directs Fences, another August Wilson play about a Negro League baseball player in 1999.  Mokae says "No, no, I'm more into directing now. I leave acting to the actors. I've been acting for too long. It makes sense for me now to move from acting to directing. It's about sharing ideas when you direct. I like to work with actors. Being an actor myself makes it easy". 

The cast were Sly Smith, Alexander Mervin, Martha Watson, Leain Vashon, Steven McKenzy, Cameron Miller and AnSherae Devine. Director Zakes Mokae creates wonderful pacing that carries the viewer through Troy's stumbles and starts. He always remains true to the emotional core of the work, letting the shared emotions communicate the essence of the story, without resorting to theatricality. (Carolyn Wardle in Las Vegas Review-Journal). Mokae recalls that, while he was directing Fences at CCSN, one actor couldn't adapt to his looser style. "He couldn't let go, so I physically had to hold him down," he says. "I told him to try to get up. I was pushing him down, he was pushing me up, then I let go and said, ‘Now say that speech.' He was dead-on. He was holding back, and now he's free. He went to Hollywood and got a job." (Steve Bornfeld, Las Vegas Weekly, 28 June 2005).

Bryan Harnetiaux  National Pastimes 2002

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Mokae directing Bryan Harnetiaux´s play National Pastimes at the Community College of Southern Nevada (CCSN) in 2002.  It is about the life and times of Jackie Robinson, the first black American to play professional baseball.  The cast includes Martha Watson, Jim Williams and Sly Smith. Alex Mervin plays Robinson.  Mokae is quoted by Ken White: "It has something to say.. It's about a guy who achieved what he wanted to achieve. For me, apart from the politics, it was interesting because baseball people really get involved in the sport."

Athol Fugard  The Road to Mecca 2003

Zakes Mokae directing Fugard's The Road to Mecca in March 2003.  The production was a collaboration between the Nevada Shakespeare Company and the Nevada Conservatory Theatre, based at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas.

The actors are Ray Favero, Charlene Sher and Jeanmarie Simpson.  Photo by Christine H. Wetzel from reviewjournal.

Zakes Mokae directing The Road to Mecca


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