James Ryan Gobuty
I have to start this review with a bit of a disclaimer. I am a huge fan of the playwright Yael Farber and have followed her work for quite a while now. Having exposed a little bit of my bias, I can now say that He Left Quietly is, by far, the best play I’ve seen at SummerWorks 2014, and perhaps one of the best plays I’ve seen all year.
He Left Quietly tells the true story of Duma Joshua Kumalo, a man who was falsely accused of committing murder by the apartheid regime in South Africa, and who subsequently spent four years on death row and three years serving a life sentence. Playwright Yael Farber met Duma during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings and developed a friendship with him, from which this play results.
The story of the play unfolds as Duma (Conrad Coates) comes on stage and starts explicating the early part of his life. He then meets the Woman (Aviva Armour-Ostroff), a character based off of the playwright herself, whom he starts to tell the story to, and to whom he also trusts a suitcase full of letters that he had written while in prison. As the play unfolds, we get to see Young Duma (Tawiah M’Carthy) while he suffers through his trial and his imprisonment. We see the tortures, both physical and mental, that he and his fellow prisoners are subjected to daily. Alongside this, we see the Woman transform as the full extent of the terror her country, and implicitly, herself and all the other white South Africans had perpetrated, finally comes to light. Duma manages to teach the Woman and the audience that the only way to mend long standing wounds is to understand that the horrors of the past are part of our legacy, and that only by understanding those crimes can we possibly hope to rectify them.
The director Leora Morris and the entire production team also did an outstanding job. The stage is adorned with a pile of shoes and a pile of clothes, a common feature in many of Farber’s plays, which are a surprisingly versatile medium for created semi-scene changes. The lighting was also excellent and was able to create an intense feeling of enclosure when necessary, and conversely at times even a hopeful brightness.
I don’t think a play has ever made me cry before, but He Left Quietly did not leave a single dry eye in the audience, not even mine.
He left Quietly is playing at The Lower Ossington Theatre, 100 Ossington Avenue, until August 16th, as part of the Summer Works Performance Festival.