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picture - GroundswellTheater Review

by Harvey Perr

published June 5, 2009



now playing Off Broadway at the Acorn on Theater Row

through June 27


Ian Bruce’s Groundswell has the makings of a powerful post-Apartheid drama; one, which with three strong characters, could give us what we have come to expect from the New Group:  sustained interest in how people behave in tight situations.  As an avowed admirer of this theater company, this reviewer was hoping against hope that its director, Scott Elliott, would salvage his reputation as a fine director of actors, after the embarrassing failure of his Mourning Becomes Electra.


The world Groundswell wants to depict is the one of a country struggling to find ways in which to live with each other in the midst of a rapidly changing order.  The beachfront guesthouse in a port town on the South African West Coast is a perfect representation of a past elegance gone to seed, a mix of refinement and corruption.  The lodge is open for one guest: Smith – a sort of South African Colonel Blimp – and is run for the weekend by Thami, an African who works year round for its owner.  Thami has been encouraged by the white Afrikaner Johan to involve Smith in a get-rich-quick diamond scheme.


The set-up is tense with possibilities.  But the action screeches to a half almost before it starts.  We are told that it is a foggy winter day and the season certainly casts its characters adrift, meandering, as it were, through a fog.  Souléymane Sy Sarané possesses the innate dignity of Thami, but none of the fire which would propel the play.  David Lansbury conveys the desperation of Johan without getting inside the man and providing us with a glint of where that desperation stems from.  Larry Bryggman gives us a full-fleshed but not very interesting Smith.  The three never meld, as the casts of previous New Group productions have, into a cohesive ensemble.  It is up to the designers – Derek McLane’s set design, for example – to create the world of the play, which they do far more successfully than the actors.  As it stands, Groundswell is all atmosphere when suspense and wit and human interplay are what is called for.


harveyperr @


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