Off-Broadway's Signature Theatre Company concludes their celebration of Athol Fugard with his two-person play "The Train Driver." Time Out New York contributing critic David Cote filed the following review.
"The Train Driver," Athol Fugard’s somber study of guilt and forgiveness, marks the end of his current residency at the Signature Theatre. In three plays now, we’ve watched the venerable South African playwright grapple with profound issues of justice, racism and social progress. Shorter in length but no less intense, "The Train Driver" continues those resonant themes.
Inspired by the true story of an Afrikaner conductor who could not stop his train from killing a woman who had stepped onto the tracks with her baby, this cathartic work is slow and wrenching, but rewarding.
It takes place in a trash-strewn field, where the gravedigger Simon, played by Leon Addison Brown, buries nameless South African blacks. One day Roelf turns up looking for the resting place of the woman his train mowed down. What ensues is a gradual, wary alliance between the two men, as Roelf’s desire to curse the woman who has wrecked his peace of mine morphs into a sense of social connection and release.
Richie Coster is excellent as a coarse everyman hollowed out by empathy, while Brown, working with less of a character, maintains a bemused weariness.
"The Train Driver" is not free of repetitive patches or thematic hammering, but the production, which features finely textured sound and light design, and scrupulous staging by Fugard himself, gathers force for its inevitable fatalistic ending.
Interweaving moral urgency, simple theatrical effects and honest but poetic language, Fugard shows that potent, socially conscious theater is not lying yet six feet under.