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Editors note: Photos are available by contacting Vanessa Shelton at (319) 384-0010.

Athol Fugard's 'The Island' to be performed at the UI June 12-15

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Believing in the power of theater to affect people's lives, a cast of dedicated thespians will present Athol Fugard's "The Island" at the University of Iowa Thursday, June 12, through Sunday, June 15.

"The Island" will be performed at 8 p.m. each day at the Space Place Theater in North Hall on the UI campus. Tickets are $5 for adults and $3 for children and senior citizens and will be available at the door.

Director Carol MacVey said the group is so convinced of the ability of the play to inspire and move its audiences that the play will tour Iowa prisons and schools and, in the spring of 1998, will tour Japan.

"The Island" is a play within a play. Set in apartheid South Africa, the production focuses on the lives of two political prisoners incarcerated on Robben Island as they prepare to do a two-person performance of Sophocles' "Antigone" for other inmates and the prison staff.

Performing in the two-person play are brothers Ansa and Modei Akyea, both students at the UI who were born in Ghana, West Africa. Ryan Berg, a theatre arts student at the UI, is stage manager; and Joyce Schutter, who recently received her MFA degree from the UI, is designer. The play is self-produced, so in addition to presenting the play, director MacVey and company also are making sponsorship arrangements for the production and tour.

The play examines the bonds and tensions between cellmates Winston and John as they rehearse a prison performance of "Antigone." During South Africa President Nelson Mandela's 27-year imprisonment on Robben Island he also staged "Antigone," a loaded tribute to "A fellow freedom fighter who deliberately defies an unjust law." It was a theatrical gesture of defiance. "Antigone" represented the continuing struggle against an oppressive regime.

Today Robben Island operates not as a prison but as a tourist attraction.

Playwright Fugard was born in South Africa and is considered one of the most powerful living playwrights in the world. Generally his plays concern the system of apartheid, which existed in his homeland most of his life. His dialogue is naturalistic and alive, yet perfectly tuned: he can wrench the gut or touch a nerve with piercing precision. His characters are human in their vulnerability, yet heroic in their dignity and their ability to laugh in the face of humiliation and brutality.

One of Fugard's early plays, 'The Blood Knot," concerning the fraught relationship between two black brothers, was initially banned because Fugard wanted to use black actors in front of a white audience in South Africa. In the following year, 1962, he became active in encouraging a boycott of South African theatre by overseas English-speaking playwrights, insisting that plays should be performed before non-segregated audiences.

Fugard's rendition of "Antigone" is just one of many over its 2,000 years of existence, according to MacVey.

An adjunct assistant professor in the theatre arts department, MacVey explained her interest in presenting the Fugard play grew out of a couple of inspirational chance encounters working with the playwright. She had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of acting on the Royal Court stage with Fugard, who randomly selected her from the audience to participate in an acting exercise. In the other encounter Fugard was in residence at Princeton University while MacVey was teaching there and directed her in a public lecture-demonstration. "Since I've acted with Fugard and been directed by him, I thought my next move ought to be to direct one of his plays."