Lehigh Valley Stage posed questions to Anna Russell, Artistic Director of Allentown Public Theatre about their upcoming presentation of Athol Fugard's 'The Island', to be performed January 13-14-15 at The Charles A. Brown IceHouse on Sand Island, Bethlehem, PA.
How and why does this show have relevance in this country, in this community, today? Is there a Guantanamo detention camp aspect to the play that may resonate as well as that of South African apartheid?
Anna Russell:Guantanamo, mass incarceration, Black Lives Matter - yes, I think there are quite a lot of paralells to our present day and time. Both The Island and Antigone are about what happens when there is a discrepancy between what those in power say is right legally, and what those not in power feel is right morally. It's a discrepancy that has occured time and time again throughout history, and even today, in our own government. The law is not interchangeable with ethics, and when power and systematized racism blind people to the wrongs they are justifying legally, you get: harsh prison sentencing mandates for nonviolent crimes, police brutality, mass incarceration - the list goes on and on.
Why are you doing 'The Island' again so soon after presenting it this past Spring?
A.R.: We felt immediately last Spring that we needed to do the show again. It has such a powerful and significant message for our community, we felt more people really needed to hear it. We were really fortunate as a cast to all be able to come back together for this iteration of the show and share it once more with the public. I am hopeful, this time around, that the message will spread more widely and have a greater impact. Certainly, I feel that people are more eager to hear it this time, which I hope will help.
This is a difficult show to cast in the Lehigh Valley. Tell us how you managed it.
A.R.: I am so fortunate to have found the cast I did! They are all such wonderful, high-quality performers, not to mention amazing human beings! This would have been a very different show without them! Since The Island originally involves only 2 characters, I knew, when I began casting, that my actors had to be just right. I did quite a lot of individual and on-site auditions all over the Lehigh Valley (and as far away as East Straudsburg), based off of recommendations I had gotten from people I knew and came in contact with. Once I knew who my 2 actors would be, I took stock of the strengths and abilities of some of the others who had auditioned and built our chorus around them. Since both Theo and Chie are very talented dancers (among other things, including singers), Chloe Cole Wilson, our dramaturg and choreographer, worked with them to tell a more abstract version of our story. I had known from the beginning that I wanted percussion, and Vern came very highly (and deservedly!) recommended to me. I could not have been more fortunate!