THE TRAIN DRIVER: 88% – Sweet [UPDATED]

Adolphus Ward and Morlan Higgins in "The Train Driver" at the Fountain Theatre. Credit: Ed Krieger

BITTERSWEET
Ward’s Simon — quietly watchful, full of natural grace and settled peacefully into his solitude — contrasts with Higgins’ Roelf, a frenzied being caught between worlds and at home in neither. Together they bear witness to a difficult truth: This unwelcoming stretch of South African earth ultimately makes brothers of all races. Now if only this poetic condition had been elaborated into something more than tantalizing fragments.
Charles McNulty – LA Times

SWEET
Director Stephen Sachs’ character-driven production is stunning, from the dusty squalor of Jeff McLaughlin’s desolate, gravel-covered shanty set to the dense, evocative acting work. Higgins’ mingled rage and sorrow — anger over being forced to kill someone he didn’t know, along with his grief over the pair’s death — is powerful, but it’s Ward’s slightly ironic, underplayed turn as the grave digger that captures attention every moment he’s onstage.
Paul Birchall – LA Weekly

SWEET
Director Stephen Sachs gives the piece a fine and meticulous production on Jeff McLaughlin’s wonderfully evocative set, and the two actors bring the characters to vibrant life. Higgins vividly captures the desperation of the white man as he fights for clarity and understanding. And he is well-matched by Ward, whose role is often as listener, but he listens eloquently. And his wonderful face, etched with experience, can simultaneously suggest the naiveté of an uneducated man and the wisdom of the ages. His delight is contagious as he remembers searching for wild honey with his father.
Neal Weaver – Backstage

SWEET
We are a privileged city to have such an esteemed director (Stephen Sachs) and playwright offer the U.S. premiere of THE TRAIN DRIVER (Fugard directed a production in South Africa earlier this year). You would be foolish to miss the magic that comes from such lyrical dialogue; Fugard’s words reach your soul, reminding us that the human language, when constructed with such elegance, can achieve an evocative chill akin to the mournful, spiritual wailing of the dogs that howl their existence to the night.
Tony Frankel – Stagehappenings

SWEET
The two-hander play relies mightily on the shoulders of its Fugard-experienced cast, and what a triumph! Adolphus Ward and Morlan Higgins perfectly compliment each other’s characters with an electric and tense chemistry that provides necessary suspense in an otherwise distilled story. Ward magically charms the audience, and while most of the dialogue is Roelf’s venting monologues, Ward’s physical reactions and contemplation are clear and felt. Higgins runs the gamut of emotions without a misstep and finds humor in the bleak, somewhat arrogant diatribes.
MR Hunter – Stagehappenings

BITTER
I wanted to love The Train Driver as much as my guest (and certainly many in the audience) did. With such impeccable performances and design, it may be worth checking Fugard’s latest at the Fountain. If only the play itself had made me want to return for more.
Steven Stanley – StageSceneLA

SWEET
Nonetheless, a Stephen Sachs staging of any new Fugard play, including this one, is an event that shouldn’t be missed. It’s a very short and small play – perhaps too short and small. The play could benefit from at least one more character, considering the gravity of what happens at the end. But the performances by Morlan Higgins and Adolphus Ward are big and glorious.
Don Shirley – LA Stage Watch

SWEET
In terms of personal relationships, Fugard has maintained a special bond with the L.A. based Fountain Theatre. Ever since the L.A. premiere of his 2000 classic The Road to Mecca, Fugard was so impressed with the production that he offered the company world premiere rights to his new works, which have included the L.A. Drama Critics and Ovation Award winning Exits and Entrances (2004), Victory (2008), and Coming Home (2009). This year, Athol Fugard’s U.S. premiere of THE TRAIN DRIVER is a true testament of how a talented playwright and theatre company can come together to create a story about race, rage, and redemption.
Peter A. Balaskas – LASplash

SWEET
The uncredited vocal music was lovely and Stephen Sachs directs with a keen ear for the playwrights’s depth and humor. Most of all, the 78-year-old playwright has showed the white man’s terror and, despite its length and some repetiousness, another searing picture of South Africa today. It’s the best thing he’s done so far.
Laura Hitchcock – CurtainUp

SWEET
It is a solemn, melancholy piece, adding another two-man, black-and-white drama to Fugard’s long list of plays. Perhaps its biggest statement comes in a sly moment to which Sachs wisely avoids drawing much attention. When Visagie arrives, despite the hopelessness he has absorbed, he has not thought to question his faith. In fact, though it appears to be concern for décor as much as for piety, he objects to the way Hanabe has scattered junk on the graves to keep the dogs from digging up the bodies. He replaces the scrap metal with stones arranged into crosses. Eventually, however, without much fanfare, he will accede to Hanabe’s safeguard. Clearly we must take our protection into our own hands.
Cristofer Gross – TheaterTimes.org

SWEET
Telling performances keep the audience engrossed, and the forgiving and forgiven spirit of maybe a new world alive and well.
Madeleine Shaner – Park La Brea News/Beverly Press (opens in pdf)

BITTER
Athol Fugard’s “The Train Driver” never pulls into the station. The South African master, who has concocted so many sizzling two-handers on the subjects of apartheid and its aftermath, chooses to let a potentially fascinating confrontation dribble away as one character stands in virtually mute witness to the other’s long, slow self-pitying dirge. As an allegory for a tortured past, it’s pretty obvious; and as a theatrical experience, pretty inert in this Fountain Theater U.S. premiere.
Bob Verini – Variety

SWEET
The two-man, one-act play is taut and compelling; a brilliant masterpiece which tells the story of a man who lived a tidy life, traveling the rails, never looking beyond his steel enclosure. He ignored the poverty and shacks he passed every single day. Until a woman, with a baby strapped to her back, stepped in front of his train and changed everything.
Sheryl Scarborough – Socal.com

SWEET
For a brief but potent look into the human soul, its sudden awakening, and the dreadful realities that follow the lifting of apartheid, Train Driver is 90 powerful minutes of theater.
Clare Elfman – Buzzine

SWEET
The overall excellence of this production, however, must be credited to director Stephen Sachs, whose slow and deliberate pacing amplifies the anguish of the train driver and the confused cogitations of the gravedigger. And of course to playwright Athol Fugard, who has provided a gripping and moving vignette of South Africa and brought it for its United States premiere to the stage of the Fountain Theatre, long celebrated as one of the very best little theaters in Los Angeles. Fugard himself calls this play “The most important play I’ve ever written,” which is quite a dramatic statement from a man who has won every major award from a Tony to an Obie to an Oscar for his work. And even the Order of Ikhamanga in Silver for his “excellent contribution and achievements in the theater” from the government of South Africa.
Cynthia Citron – LA Examiner

SWEET
Directed by Stephen Sachs, The Train Driver is an intimate portrait of grief and understanding told in the intimate setting of The Fountain Theatre. Both Ward and Higgins do a very fine job (the audience — consisting of many high school students — probably should have clapped a bit longer for the actors then they did) of conveying their characters’ situational emotions — and emotional situations — with understatement and breadth of character. The only drawback is the play was the sound effects: the carrion-eating bush dogs, gang attacks, flashbacks to the train accident and memories of childhood songs, to name a few. They were annoying and intrusive. The production did not need them.
Miranda Inganni – Jesther Entertainment

SWEET
It is even better that The Train Driver is not only as good as it is, but that the Fountain Theatre production is giving the play its proper due. Perhaps the play lacks the breadth of works like A Lesson From Aloes and Master Harold and the Boys, but, in returning to the mood of a play like Boesman and Lena, Fugard is working from a deeper, quieter, and, from this reviewer’s point of view, slightly more resonant place within himself. Rarely has Fugard’s language been more tinged with the poetry of heartbreak.
Harvey Perr – Stage and Cinema

SWEET
This is a powerful play and a very talky one, performed by two excellent actors. Adolphus Ward is wonderful as the kindly, old grave digger who tends his “sleeping children” with compassion and care. He decorates their sorry final resting places with discarded, rusty auto parts, in lieu of the non-available flowers. He protects the nameless dead from marauding dogs and his meager shack from roving hoodlums. The always brilliant Morlan Higgins is Roelf, a disheveled, tortured white man in search of redemption for a tragedy for which he erroneously believes himself responsible. He has an authentic – too authentic – South African accent which, for me, made the story difficult to follow, since the dialogue between these two strangers carries the entire action.
Ingrid Wilmot – Will Call

“The Train Driver,” The Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., L.A. 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends Dec. 12. $25-$30. (323) 663-1525. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.

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LemonMeter About the Author: We don’t “review” shows here at the Lemon, rather we "review" reviews by gathering them from a variety of local review sites around the internet, judging them to be positive or negative, then forming an aggregate score that we call a LEMONMETER RATING, showing how well that show has been reviewed in total. For more detail on how the LemonMeter works visit here.

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  1. Amazing. My review is the most negative of them all, though I’m not sure I’d go so far as to call it Bitter. After all, I did recommend the production on my Top Picks page:
    http://stagescenela.com/html/top_picks.html
    =
    Recommended
    THE TRAIN DRIVER

  2. It’s sometimes difficult to tell, Steven. The language in your review was decidedly negative.

  3. You have a fellow dissenter now, Steven. Check out Bob Verini’s review from Variety.