Enjoy the Ride

A man sprawled over a sandy grave, wretchedly trying to arrange the scattered stones into a dignified cross will leave you with chills spiking through your shirt. How can a man care so much about a dead woman who he never knew? Well, Athol Fugard will tell you exactly why in The Train Driver.

Poster from outside theater

Roelf Visagie (Ritchie Coster) begs for the nameless. He dignifies the graves of the undignified during his search for the one he calls “Red Doek.” Hate consumes Roelf’s life as his life was instantly ruined. ‘Red Doek,’ an African mother had thrown herself, along with her baby, in front of a train—his train—and took Roelf down with her. However, Roelf is able to turn hate into a quite different emotion with a little help from Simon Hanabe (Leon Addison Brown.)  The relationship that slowly forms between Simon and him helps Roelf realize a truth behind the death of the mother. The mostly bare graveyard is the setting of a psychological evolution.

The woman decimated Roelf’s happy life. He despises her, and what she had done to him. He screams to her from the graveyard in anguish, then he screams at Simon for answers. The sadness of the man is expressed through the anger of his actions. Ritchie Coster did a fantastic job with the expressive nature of his character. His dirty clothes and body, along with drunken movements and slurred speech, captured the essence of the character’s agony.

Credits to Richard Termine/Boneau/Bryan-Brown via Bloomberg

At first sight, the set seems like a fairly unpopulated junkyard with sand covering  the ground. The only ‘junk’ being a scrapped sedan sprawled on the left side of the stage covered in old tires, wood, and soiled fabrics. Other than the car, a small shack in which the grave digger—Simon— calls home sweet home. Surrounding the shack, small piles of earth, topped with stones, litter the ground. Then to disturb the (seemingly already disturbed) wasteland, Roelf comes to interrogate Simon the suicidal woman. The detail of the set was interesting. The sense of dirtiness and wear is injected into each piece of the set. Even Simon’s shovel is worn at the spaded tip from the endless digging that must have occurred.

The main issue at stake is apartheid, an issue in which Athol Fugard is well-versed and passionate about. The ghastly effect of apartheid on the innocent is implied throughout the play. Fugard does not barrage these ideas at you though, allowing room for interpretation.

Less is more in the case of The Train Driver. The simple set, and the simple costumes allowed for more of a focus on the story. It allowed for more attention to be given to the minute details surrounding the characters and the storyline. Being that there are only two actors, the words each character speaks are not lost. It gives each sentence more value, and gives each sentence more potency.

So don’t be fooled by a small theater, a simple set, and two actors; just enjoy the ride.

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One Response to Enjoy the Ride

  1. Professor Bernstein says:

    Keen observations in your review. Nice inclusion of details, too.

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