Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Groundswell"

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note: entire contents copyright 2010 by Sheila Barth

a rousing post-apartheid play

A Minority Report by Sheila Barth

. To kick off the new year, the Lyric Stage Co. of Boston is presenting the New England debut of South African author Ian Bruce’s intriguing, provocative new thriller, “Groundswell,” a post-apartheid drama set in South Africa that’s riddled with guilty consciences, poverty, and morality.

This one-act, 1-1/2-hour play builds slowly, focusing on three men, rises to a violent crescendo, then ebbs, returning to status quo and a lingering tension-filled, unresolved conclusion.

Led by Director Daniel Gidron, three well-known Boston stars --- Richard McElvain, Jason Bowen and Timothy John Smith --- deliver compelling performances, keeping our attention rapt during this 1-1/2-hour, one-act drama. The men are a trilogy of contrasting personalities, each with his own set of colliding hopes and goals.

Beneath hotel handyman Johan’s joviality lurks a sinister side, one to be reckoned with, in which Johan’s entire being and self-esteem depends. He desperately tries to heal his soul and redeem himself from past misdeeds and misgivings, which actor Timothy John Smith delivers with gusto. Johan is apparently fond of and bent on helping hotel manager Thami, whose family lives in a poverty-ridden village, and to whom Thami writes embellished, hopeful letters. He dreams of saving enough money to someday own his own farm and be self-supporting. However, Johan has his own ideas. The volatile, virile former constable, who was jailed for accidentally killing a black man in his home, in front of his family, 15 years ago, dreams of partnering with Thami to own a government subsidized diamond mine concession, but they need $92,000 to get their investment underway. When Johan realizes a lonely, widowed, retired investments businessman is biding his time, traveling alone, and staying overnight at the guest house where he works, he seizes the opportunity to forcefully coerce the gentleman into funding their venture, as the tension mounts to a frightening, nail-biting climax.

Timothy John Smith as Johan, Richard McElvain as meek, mild-mannered hotel guest Smith and Jason Bowen as Thami, the voice of reason between two contrasting personalities, are all outstanding. However, at times, the actors’ heavy South African dialect is difficult to understand.

Jenna McFarland Lord’s set, a beachfront guest house in a small South African port, is noteworthy; and Brendan Doyle’s sound design, coupled with Margo Caddell’s effective lighting, heighten the mounting pathos here.

BOX INFO: One-act, 1-1/2 hour dramatic play, written by Ian Bruce, appearing now through Jan. 30, at the Lyric Stage Co. of Boston, 140 Clarendon St., Boston. Showtimes are Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturday, 3,8 p.m.; Sunday, 3 p.m.; Wednesday, Jan. 27, at 2,7:30, Jan. 20, and all Thursdays at 7:30 p.m. Tickets, $25-$50. For more information, visit or call 617-585-5678

dt> "Groundswell" (1 - 30 January)

140 Clarendon Street, BOSTON
1(617) 585-5678

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide