Playhouse Theatre, (11/17/1980 - 2/08/1981)

First Preview: Nov 05, 1980
Opening Date: Nov 17, 1980
Closing Date: Feb 08, 1981
Total Previews: 14
Total Performances: 96

Category: Play, Original, Broadway
Setting: The backyard and the bedroom of a small house in Algoa Park, Port Elizabeth, South Africa in 1963.

Opening Night Production Staff

Produced by Jay J. Cohen, Richard Press and Louis Busch Hager Associates, Inc.; Produced in association with Yale Repertory Theatre (Lloyd Richards: Artistic Director; Benjamin Mordecai: Managing Director)

Written by Athol Fugard

Directed by Athol Fugard

Scenic Design by Michael H. Yeargan; Costume Design by Susan Hilferty; Lighting Design by William Armstrong

General Manager: Theatre Management Associates, Inc.; Executive Producer: Ashton Springer; Company Manager: Stephanie S. Hughley

Production Supervisor: Ray Cook; Production Stage Manager: Laurence Rothenberg; Stage Manager: Neal Ann Stephens

General Press Representative: Max Eisen; Press Representative: Irene Gandy; Advertising: Lawrence Weiner and Associates; Photographer: Gerry Goodstein; Casting: Meg Simon and Fran Kumin

Opening Night Cast

James Earl JonesSteve Daniels
Maria TucciGladys Bezuidenhout
Harris YulinPiet Bezuidenhout

Understudies: Baxter Harris (Piet Bezuidenhout), Linda McGuire (Gladys Bezuidenhout) and Zakes Mokae (Steve Daniels)

Awards and Nominations

Tony Award®

 1981 Best Play [nominee] 

Written by Athol Fugard; Produced by Jay J. Cohen, Richard Press and Louis Busch Hager Associates, Inc.; Produced in association with Yale Repertory Theatre (Lloyd Richards: Artistic Director; Benjamin Mordecai: Managing Director)


New York Daily News: "A grim and powerful 'Lesson' for all"

"A Lesson From Aloes" is a measured, powerful study of the human spirit; specifically, of an Afrikaner's blind, practically numbed determination to cling to his homeland in spite of adversities that include his wife's loss of reason. Written and directed by Athol Fugard, South Africa's preeminent playwright, it opened last night at the Playhouse.

It is a work that slowly casts a lengthening shadow across a territory nearly as bleak as Beckett until, at the final dimout, the place and its two principal characters seem engulfed in perpetual darkness.

There are just three of them: the husband, a luckless white farmer and his distrait wife who occupy the long first half, and a black friend, a former bricklayer, who joins them in the second.

We are at the modest house of Piet Bezuidenhout and his wife Gladys in an apparently white district of Port Elizabeth in 1963 (the true-life events Fugard details evidently took place that year), the action passing back and forth between garden and bedroom, mostly in the former.

Piet, who spends his days collecting and potting aloes and other spiky, hardy plants from the dry and unfertile veldt nearby, and Gladys, not long out of a mental hospital, possibly in an England she yearns for but may only imagine, are preparing to greet a black family invited for dinner. Piet and the black husband Steve had been part of a politically active dissident group recently broken up by the police, and Steve, who has only just gotten out of jail, is about to move to England with his family. Piet may also have informed on the group, though one is led to wonder why an informer should have been necessary, and since he is suspected of having done so, he and his wife have been shunned by all their other friends.

The family never arrives; just the hearty yet suspicious head of it who has bolstered his spirit with drink along the way. Piet quite understandably refuses to answer his suddenly enraged wife's accusations of Steve's question until near the close. Like Shakespeare's Cordelia, Piet "cannot heave (his) heart into (his) mouth."

Exercising masterly control, Fugard peels away layers of information and feeling, among them an account of a government raid on the house and confiscation of her diaries, an act that precipitated her breakdown. In the end, Piet, like the species of aloe he has been unable to identify, stands alone, resisting uprooting.

Although the play is less striking theatrically than the same author's remarkable twin bill, "Sizwe Banzi Is Dead" and "The Island," and disquieting in its conclusion, the character studies are fascinating. And while Piet is the most enigmatic figure, and Steve the most realistic, Gladys is the most pitiful.

The acting is strong throughout. Maria Tucci is no less than magnificent as the wife teetering between sanity and derangement, helplessly caught in an alien environment. Harris Yulin gives an admirably controlled performance as the solicitous but single-minded husband. James Earl Jones, in the showiest role, brings great vitality to the second half. Loving his native land, but loving freedom for his family more, Jones' Steve is commanding.

Fugard has staged this drama deliberately and upsparingly in a skimpy setting.

"A Lesson From Aloes" is a strange and grim play probing deep into the resilient spirit of man.

New York Daily News

Replacement/Transfer Info

The following people are credited as replacements or additions if they were not credited on opening night.

Playhouse Theatre

(11/17/1980 - 2/8/1981)


Zakes Mokae
Steve Daniels (Jan 20, 1981 - ?)

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