JOHANNESBURG — ATHOL FUGARD'S latest play, "Playland," is about violence in South Africa as seen through the eyes of a black security guard (nightwatchman) and a white ex- soldier.
The two confront each other in a traveling amusement park called Playland and attempt to purge themselves of their violent pasts. In establishing a dialogue between black and white, Fugard reverts to a technique he has used with effect in earlier plays. But the subject matter of "Playland" is more shocking and controversial.
The confrontation takes place on Dec. 30, 1989 - about four weeks before President Frederick de Klerk attempted to exorcise the past by legalizing political dissent as a prelude to dismantling apartheid.
"I have set out to write a play about the highly confused transition phase of our history, " says Fugard. "The play is about violence - the karma of violence.
"These two men - who both have histories of violence - confront the consequences of their own violence. Confrontation leads to self-discovery.
"If people understand what they have done to other people, and that doing violence to others is doing it to themselves, that is the source of my optimism," he says.
Fugard insists that he will not accept De Klerk's sincerity until he says: "I'm sorry. Forgive me." Purging the past emerges as a powerful theme in the play.
"There is still a tendency to hang on to what is behind us instead of shedding it like dead skin," says Fugard.
The black man is played by Tony-award-winning South African actor John Kani who Fugard set on his acting career in Port Elizabeth - in the play "Sizwe Banzi is Dead" - more than 20 years ago. South African actor Sean Taylor plays the white man.
Fugard was reluctant to discuss the content or nuances of the play because he said these became clear only after the first reactions of the audience and theater critics. "Ask me in about six month's time," he says.
"Playland" is Fugard's 19th work in a career that has spanned four decades of apartheid. He penned the first notes that led to "Playland" about 25 years ago but completed writing it shortly before rehearsals began only last month.
"Playland" opens this week in Johannesburg. US shows are planned for August in Atlanta, and La Jolla, Calif.