Roslyn Ruff and Lou Ferguson in Coming Home.
In Coming Home, playwright Athol Fugard returns to the Jonkers’ home in a reexamination of post-apartheid life. Home is not much–a patchy tin roof over a spot in Karoo, South Africa–but it’s a retreat for Veronica, who comes back with a child and a debilitating disease. A barometer of South Africa’s political landscape, she is no longer the teenager full of hope as she was in Fugard’s 1995 Valley Song.
At Berkeley Rep, Roslyn Ruff holds court on stage as Veronica even if her accent slips from time to time. Her silence proves powerful when her character angrily succumbs deeper to her disease. As she slowly slips into the background, the conflict between her friend Alfred (Thomas Silcott) and her son (Jaden Malik Wiggins) comes to a head. Here, we see Silcott shine as Alfred, from his wide-eyed and animated entrance to his childish bickering with the son.
The play is slow to pick up, but once it does, it builds to a crescendo. The world is unraveling around Veronica but she can’t let her neighbors know. Mannetjie, her son, excels at school, but we find out that he may not be able to afford to continue his education. Alfred comes clean with his own secret, and in turn gives up his only lifelong desire. Though long-dead, Oupa (Lou Ferguson) still haunts the house. In the final scene between Oupa and Mannetjie, the play screams “THIS IS A METAPHOR,” but besides the heavy-handedness the ending is neat and offers some hope for these South Africans still struggling to survive.
Of course, the politics are there. It’s why the characters are in their separate and yet completely related situations. Underneath the surface, and even inside this kitchen drama, the political failure of the new South Africa shows. Nothing is certain or easy, thanks to the government. At Jonkers’ home, at the threshold of dashed past hopes, Fugard offers a mucky present as a jumping off point for a new, fertile future.
Coming Home continues at Berkeley Rep until February 28. See more information on dates, times, and tickets here.