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‘Absalom’ a Bitter Song of South Africa

The characters--a wealthy, eccentric white woman and her black servant--may remind one of “Driving Miss Daisy.” But director Ann Bowen says that Selaelo Maredi’s South Africa-set “Absalom’s Song” (premiering Thursday at the Los Angeles Theatre Center) couldn’t be more different.

At 45, “Absalom is a simple man, an earthy man,” said Bowen. “He suffers from a deep consciousness of his people’s wounds.” His boss, 52-year old Lynette, “is immersed in her own life. She has liberal tendencies, yet she resists change. She has a good heart, but wants to keep the status quo. She’ll do things like send Absalom to school (under the guise of educating him), but really so he can answer the phone with greater ease.”

Though Maredi had intended to play Absalom when he wrote the piece in 1987, he was never part of this production. (He returned to South Africa early this year after a long self-imposed exile.) The play reflects the turmoil of the late ‘80s--and the white ruling class’ annoyance with the unrest. “Lynette (Maggie Soboil) holds Absalom (Sam Motaoana Phillips) and his people responsible for not controlling their children during the riots,” said Bowen. “She has no understanding of what’s driven them to commit terrorist acts.”

In spite of the somber undertones, Bowen noted that the play has a lot of comic moments: “Lynette has an idea that Absalom could make it in show business, and she’d be his manager. He goes along with it, because he’ll do anything to keep his job. But the truth is, she hasn’t known him for the seven years he’s worked for her. You have two people who’ve seen each other every day--yet they’re completely estranged. At the end, they have it out.”

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DUELING AWARDS: The late Ted Schmitt, artistic director of the Cast Theatre, is being honored by two factions of local theater.

Theatre LA will present the $5000 “Ted Schmitt Memorial Award for Innovation in Small Theatre Art or Craft” Monday at its 2nd annual Ovation Awards ceremony at the Pasadena Playhouse. And the Los Angeles Drama Critics’ Circle announced Wednesday that its first Schmitt award--voted by the circle’s 18 members for the writer of the outstanding play given its world premiere in 1990 in Los Angeles or Orange counties--goes to Howard Korder for “Search and Destroy,” produced at South Coast Repertory.

“I had the idea for the award before I saw Theatre LA’s announcement,” said Daily Breeze critic Sandra Kreiswirth, who spearheaded the LADCC effort. “I don’t think there’s a conflict. Theirs is for a theater person; ours is for a new play. Because Ted was so much into developing work, it’s our way of paying tribute. And frankly, I don’t think you can have too many Ted Schmitt awards.”

Theatre LA executive director Karen Rushfield is less sanguine.

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“I’m sorry if they stole any of our thunder, but I don’t think it was intentional,” she said, adding that the project has been ongoing for almost a year. “We gave our (91) members an opportunity to nominate people they thought most noteworthy, so the names came directly from committee.” Selecting from the nominees were panelists Laura Zucker, Howard Burman, Barbara Beckley and Dorothy Lyman.


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