(front) and OSullivan in Dimeto (right).
of the World
Athol Fugard, directed by Peter Wallace
The Unicorn Theatre at the Berkshire
Theatre Festival, Stockbridge, Mass., through June 29
In the darkness immediately preceding the action, we hear
sound effects that suggest some primal percolation. A sensitively
rendered erotic image that could be from a Greek myth follows:
that of a nearly nude young woman, Lydia, astride a dark horse
to which she is fastening intricately knotted ropes running
through a block-and-tackle system. That something sensual
is brewing is held in check, however, by the coolly scientific
directions spoken to Lydia by an offstage voice in the darkness.
It is that of her uncle, Dimetos, an engineer and former designer
The work at hand is the extrication of a horse that has fallen
into a well. For a while it seems that the eroticism is in
the mind of the observer and that the play is primarily concerned
with matters social and scientific. A tale of forbidden love
dangerously underlies the innocence and absence of sexual
feelings that follows. But in the Berkshire Theatre Festivalís
production of Athol Fugardís Dimetos, there is much
more than mere physics riding on the pulleys that connect
girl and man and horse, and thus is the stage set for a modern
Greek tragedy that suggests a gender reversal of Phaedra.
Dimetos has fled the city that he helped create for a nontechnological
life in a province where he uses the simplest of tools to
manipulate the laws of the Earth, to which he now has a closer
connection. Looking somewhat like Ernest Hemingway, Sterling
Hayden, or an ancient Promethean, Eric Hill is a formidable
Dimetos and immediately engenders a sense of trust, stability
With the arrival of Danilo (Jeremy Davidson in a performance
that doesnít yet seem at ease), an emissary from the foundering
city, matters begin to change. A Dionysian character, Danilo
beseeches Dimetos to return to the city and save it with his
near godlike powers of engineering. A catalyst to Dimetosí
self-examination of his responsibilities as a creator, Danilo
also stimulates sexual elements, and the story diverges into
two thematic threads. One theme seems drawn from Ayn Rand,
with Dimetos standing in as an Atlas who shrugs off the society
of weak men to forge ties as an individual with similarly
strong individuals. This is potent material that is, unfortunately,
not adequately developed later in the play.
The second theme is that of a secret passion that wrecks havoc
on the delicate balance of relationships in Dimetosí simple
household, which also includes an older housekeeper, Sophia
(Anne Sullivan in a credible performance), who has a hidden
love of her own.
Eventually the play begins to resemble the central relationships
of Shakespeareís The Tempest with Dimetos as Prospero
and Lydia as Miranda. The results donít make for comedy here,
however, not even dark comedy. Relinquishing his powers to
lead a city has only placed Dimetos in a more immediate, elemental
relationship with his powers, a relationship that releases
an agent of the id more powerful than The Tempestís
Caliban. Attending this is a terrible guilt with no redemption
save that conjured in Dimetosí descent into madness. Itís
It is only upon reading Fugardís regrettably out-of-print
play that one appreciates the greatness of the contributions
brought to the BTF production by, especially, director Peter
Wallace, Hill and Tara Franklin. The text is dense, often
requiring more than one reading. Wallaceís direction and the
actorsí interpretations do much to clarify, heighten and find
an emotional core in Fugardís heady blend of ideas.
In all of her performances on the BTFís various stages, Franklin
has been an eloquent and elegant force of natural talent combined
with invisible craft. In her first lead role, she fulfills
the ample promise of her previous successes. Radiating an
earthy sensuality, a spontaneous innocence and an awe, wonderful
and then terrible, of things both man and manmade, Franklin
delivers a performance that powerfully resonates even through
her absence in the second act.
As Dimetos, Eric Hill charts a devastating course that moves
from its own gentle innocence and denial to an awful collapse.
Hillís is a majestic portrayal that makes Dimetos the equal
in depth and suffering to any tragic hero. It ends in a moment
of self-confrontation that leaves the great man involuntarily
quivering, then shaking, as he descends into a madness that,
given Hillís performance, may be enlightenment. If you, like
I, have held Hill in high esteem, you will not miss this.
If you havenít yet become acquainted, go and discover.