In 1949, love was legislated in South Africa.
The Immorality Act, which banned mixed marriages, became the first major piece of apartheid legislation. It was soon followed by an amendment that outlawed interracial intercourse.
The ban was not lifted until 1985, so when South African playwright and novelist Athol Fugard's “Statements After An Arrest Under the Immorality Act” premiered in 1972 – a work that featured a post-coital conversation between a naked black man and a naked white woman – it was provocative on many levels. Quite intentionally so.
Today, this verbose but often-lyrical one-act play is a history lesson and a cautionary tale. Its start-to-finish nudity still lays bare the characters’ souls and fully exposes their class- and race-dictated defenses. And the absence of actual sexual contact during the play continues to emphasize personal and emotional freedoms as the deepest, driving desires that define their relationship.
The play's title references statements made after the couple's arrest in the dark in the back office of a library, an event represented by convergence-continuum designers Cory Molner and Beau Reinker with exploding strobe lights, piercing sound effects and projected flash photography.
Director Terrence Spivey nicely balances the hyper-realism of the arrest with the heightened dialogue the playwright provides the lovers and the theatrical monologues used to represent their interrogation by the police, which helps build the tension that propels this play. The only narrative device that fails to hit home in this production is the reading of official police reports by the self-righteous arresting officer, depicted in broad caricature by Soren Russell.
Jill Kenderes plays Freida Joubert, a lonely librarian, and Corin Self plays Errol Philanderer, a married principal at a neighboring school that is short on books. They do a masterful job of keeping their characters real, making their heightened and excessive dialogue sound like everyday discourse, and wearing their nudity as if it was a natural albeit anxious extension of two people in love under penalty of arrest. All their emotions are raw, palpable and the stuff that keeps the audience engaged for the show’s 75-minute run.
That and, of course, the unavoidable nudity.