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Athol Fugard tells Off-Ramp about his new play, "The Train Driver"

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Previews start Friday, October 8, and the official opening is Saturday, October 16 for Athol Fugard's newest play, "The Train Driver," at the Fountain Theatre in Hollywood. Fugard, who splits his time between the San Diego area and South Africa, has won an Oscar, Obie, and Tony. He writes about apartheid, and is the first white South African playwright to collaborate with black actors.
Fugard spoke with Off-Ramp's John Rabe; here's the long version of their conversation.

Press Release from The Fountain Theatre:

LOS ANGELES, CA - September 17, 2010 - The Fountain Theatre continues its ongoing, award-winning relationship with Athol Fugard with the U.S. premiere of the master playwright's newest play. Stephen Sachs directs Morlan Higgins and Adolphus Ward in The Train Driver, opening on October 16. Low-priced previews begin October 8.

A traumatized train driver is tormented by a nightmare that has shattered his life - until he is awakened by an extraordinary stranger. A mesmerizing, transforming and deeply personal journey into the human soul, Fugard calls The Train Driver, "The most important play I've ever written."

Nearly a decade ago, Fugard saw a small item in the newspaper about a black South African mother who grabbed her three children and pulled them onto the railroad tracks in front of an oncoming train. The story haunted him, and he began making journal entries in his writer's notebook.

"I had an appointment with this story," he says. "The minute I read it I knew I was going to have to deal with it in one way or another. I wrestled with it for years, not realizing at first that the story I would write was not hers - that what I would deal with was the man in the train. His reality was the one I could enter into. This play is my truth and reconciliation. It deals with my own inherent blindness and guilt as a white South African."

"It's an awakening," explains director Stephen Sachs. "Until the moment of the accident, this white train driver was on a narrow track, looking only at the rails in front of him. His train's path goes through the pondoks (shacks) and he doesn’t look at them or see the misery around him, until one day this woman steps in front of his train and his eyes are opened. The light I hope audiences see in this play is that awakening is possible; it happens, even in the darkest night."

Athol Fugard is a South African playwright, actor and director whose scripts have earned countless accolades, including the Academy Award, Obie Award, and Tony Award. The first white South African playwright to collaborate with black actors and workers, Fugard writes of the frustrations of life in contemporary South Africa and of overcoming the psychological barriers created by apartheid. Some of his works, such as Blood Knot, were initially banned in South Africa. Widely acclaimed around the world, his plays include Boesman and Lena (Obie Award, Best Foreign Play), Sizwe Bansi Is Dead (Tony Award, Best Play), A Lesson from Aloes (New York Drama Critics Circle Award, Best Play), the semiautobiographical Master Harold...and the Boys (Writers Guild Award, Outstanding Achievement) and The Road to Mecca (New York Drama Critics Circle Citation, Best Foreign Play, London Evening Standard Award, Best Play). In his first two post-apartheid plays, Valley Song (1995) and The Captain's Tiger (1998), Fugard addressed more personal concerns, but in Sorrows and Rejoicings (2001) he focused on the complex racial dynamics of South Africa's new era. In 2005 his novel, Tsotsi (1980), was adapted for the screen, winning the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

The Fountain Theatre's special relationship with Fugard began when co-founder/co-artistic director Stephen Sachs directed the L.A. premiere of Fugard's The Road to Mecca in 2000. Fugard was so impressed that he offered the company world premiere rights to an as-yet-unwritten new work. When Sachs directed the world premiere of Exits and Entrances in 2004, it received recognition for Best Production and Best Director from both the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle (garnering a total of five awards) and the Ovations (receiving a total of three awards). Mr. Sachs went on to direct acclaimed regional productions of Exits and Entrances around the country, an Off-Broadway production at Primary Stages, and the UK premiere at the 2007 International Edinburgh Festival. The American premiere of Mr. Fugard's Victory at the Fountain in 2008, also directed by Stephen Sachs, was the recipient of two LADCC awards and four LA Weekly nominations, and was named "Best of 2008" by the Los Angeles Times. For the program of Victory, Athol Fugard wrote that he "considers The Fountain Theatre his artistic home in the United States." Victory was followed, last season, by the West Coast premiere of Coming Home, also directed by Sachs.

Morlan Higgins (Roelf) most recently appeared in the world premiere of Forgiveness at the Black Dahlia Theatre and in King Lear at Antaeus Co. He won the LA Weekly award for his performance in Shining City at The Fountain. Other credits: Exits and Entrances, After the Fall, Victory, Boys in the Band (all at The Fountain Theatre); Dealing with Clair, Water Children, Mad Forest, The Birthday Party (The Matrix Theatre Company); Dylan (Skylight Theatre); Equus (Pasadena Playhouse), A Skull in Connemara (Theatre Tribe), Hughie (Eugene O’Neill Foundation at Tao House); and numerous other plays on local stages. Morlan has received multiple Ovation, LADCC, LA Weekly, Back Stage Garland, Drama-Logue, and Ticketholders Awards. He was nominated for the Lucille Lortell Off-Broadway Actor of the Year Award for his performance in Exits and Entrances at Primary Stages in NYC. He was nominated for a Carbonell Award for E and E at Florida Stage and received a New Jersey Tony for E and E at New Jersey Rep. He is also the recipient of Santa Barbara Indie Awards for Hughie and Victory at SBT.

Adolphus Ward (Simon) is a recipient of a 2006 LA Weekly award, a 2008 Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle award, and, most recently, a 2009 NAACP award. At the Fountain Theatre, he has been seen as Bynum in Joe Turner's Come and Gone, Solly Two Kings in Gem of the Ocean, and as Oupa Jonkers in Athol Fugard's Coming Home. Other roles include Hoke in Driving Miss Daisy and Jorgenson in Other People's Money.Adolphus isdedicatinghis performances to his long time friend, Ben Bradley.

Stephen Sachs' other directing credits include last season's Shining City (named to the Best Productions of 2009 list by both the Los Angeles Times and the LA Weekly, and winner of an LA Weekly award for Revival Production of the Year); his own adaptation Miss Julie Freedom Summer (from Strindberg's Miss Julie); the world premiere of his own stage adaptation of Stephen Mitchell's version of Gilgamesh (Theatre @ Boston Court); the inaugural production at the Getty Villa in Malibu, a new translation of Euripides' Hippolytos starring Linda Purl. Arthur Miller gave Sachs exclusive permission to direct his rarely seen After The Fall (three L.A. Ovation awards). Mr. Sachs has won numerous awards for directing such plays as the Los Angeles premiere of Fugard's The Road to Mecca; West Coast premiere ofString of Pearls; his own original play Sweet Nothing in My Ear (now a Hallmark Hall of Fame film); L.A. premiere of Steven Dietz'sLonely Planet(starring Philip Anglim); The Seagull (starring Salome Jens, Philip Baker Hall, Bud Cort); the 20th Anniversary production of The Boys In The Band; and the West Coast premiere of Romulus Linney's Unchanging Love.

Housed in a charming two-story complex in Hollywood, California, The Fountain Theatre is one of the most successful intimate theaters in Los Angeles, providing a nurturing, creative home for multi-ethnic theater and dance artists.

The Train Driveropens on Saturday, October 16, with performances Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays @ 8 pm and Sundays @ 2 pm through December 12. Previews are scheduled on Friday, October 8; Saturday, October 9; Thursday, October 14; and Friday, October 15, all at 8 pm; and on Sunday, October 10 at 2 pm. Tickets are $25 on Thursdays and Fridays and $30 on Saturdays and Sundays, except opening night (October 16), which is $35 and previews which are $15. On Thursdays and Fridays only, students with ID are $18 and seniors are $23.

The Fountain Theatre is located at 5060 Fountain Avenue (at Normandie) in Los Angeles. Secure, on-site parking is available for $5.00. The Fountain Theatre is air-conditioned and wheelchair accessible. For reservations and information, call (323) 663-1525 or go to www.FountainTheatre.com.