Athol Fugard is known for his powerful political and social dramas about challenges in his homeland of South Africa.
He has created another in 2008’s “Coming Home,” receiving an excellent West Coast premiere at Berkeley Repertory Theatre.
Directed by Gordon Edelstein, who was at the helm of the premiere at the Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, Conn., the play tells the deeply personal story of one woman and her family in post-apartheid South Africa.
A sequel to Fugard’s “Valley Song” (staged by Berkeley Rep in 1998), “Coming Home” is about Veronica Jonkers, a hopeful young woman who left her village to try life in Cape Town, returning to the place where she grew up.
Her dreams of becoming a singer desperately unrealized, with a young child to feed and a father who died during the decade she was away, she nonetheless finds tentative compassion and companionship with childhood pal Alfred, who welcomes her back to her empty, crumbling abode with a bright spirit and open arms.
Their relationship, and the interplay between the mom, son and friend provide the basis of the poignant, moving drama, which, in a beautifully understated way, addresses issues of poverty, disease and disrepair in contemporary South Africa, where things haven’t turned out so rosy, despite the end of apartheid.
Key to this production’s success are standout performances by Roslyn Ruff as Veronica and Thomas Silcott as Alfred, whose changing emotions, feelings and physical health are revealed in their every word, song and body movement, They sell every line of Fugard’s often lyrical dialogue.
Their ongoing friendship, which evolves over a course of years in the play’s two acts, forms the backbone of this compelling piece.
Lou Ferguson, as Veronica’s late “Oupa,” is solid in a few dream sequences, as are Kohle T. Bolton and Jaden Malik Wiggins as Veronica’s son Mannetjie. Wiggins, playing the boy as an awakening preteen, is particularly good.
Eugene Lee’s set — the interior of the Jonkers’ bare-bones home, covered with splashes of color — perfectly complements the feeling of despair, as well as touch of hope, permeating the drama. Outside, in Berkeley Rep’s lobby, are photos from South Africa, from the area in which “Coming Home” takes place; the scene inside bears a remarkable resemblance.
Presented by Berkeley Repertory Theatre
Where: Thrust Stage, 2025 Addison St., Berkeley
When: 8 p.m. most Tuesdays and Fridays; 7 p.m. Wednesdays; 2 and 8 p.m. most Thursdays and Saturdays; 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays; closes Feb. 28
Tickets: $13.50 to $71
Contact: (415) 647-2949; www.berkeleyrep.org