The Enduring Power of Athol Fugard

Milwaukee Chamber Theater presents, The Island, which deals with racism and freedom in South Africa under apartheid.

By - Feb 25th, 2021 05:18 pm
The Island. Photo by Paul Ruffolo.

The Island. Photo by Paul Ruffolo.

History tells us that in the prisons, gulags, and slave ships, the oppressors try to control their charges by taking away hope. Hope for freedom, self-expression, and the chance to live life as we choose. We have many stories of people who have withstood the torment and brutality of these situations, both real and fictional.

As we celebrate Black History Month, Milwaukee Chamber Theatre (MCT) offers one such story, co-written by world-renowned playwright Athol Fugard, who wrote searingly about life in South Africa during apartheid. The Island, written by Fugard, John Kani, and Winston Ntshona, and is a tale of two men who are incarcerated in South Africa. They are sent to The Island to have their spirit broken and become subservient to the oppressors, to learn that resistance is futile and the pain is not worth the battle.

Instead, they will not keep silent. They suffer physical and mental anguish but will not bend their will or spirit. Though subjected to excruciating hard labor by day, they spend their nights rehearsing a performance of Sophocles’ Antigone. And then one of them is given an unexpected release.

“The themes of The Island all resound loudly with the conversations around racial justice in America that we’ve been having in increasing public ways over the past year,” says MCT Artistic director Brent Hazelton. “In particular, the dehumanizing results of systematic and institutional racism and its central question of what obligation we hold as citizens to protest when our government acts unjustly.”

The director, Chicago-based Mikael Burke, comments, “This protest play of apartheid South Africa is nearly 50 years old and yet speaks to our current American moment as if it were yesterday.”

Two Milwaukee actors star in this drama: DiMonte Hennings as Winston and Sherrick Robinson as John.

A bit like the men in this play, MCT has been working to survive in tough times. Working with local authorities and unions and following public health standards, MCT has gathered the cast and crew to produce this timely play in a virtual performance.

Stage Management by Judy Martel
Composition and Sound Design by Peter Goode
Costume Design by Amy Horst
Scenic Design by Stephen Hudson-Mairet
Lighting Design by Cor Valentine-Christophe
Dialect Coaching by Nathan Crocker
Videography by Studio Gear: Kimberlee Beggs, Derek Buckles, and Logan Allen.

THE ISLAND premieres on the MCT streaming platform,, on March 1st, 2021. The production will be available on-demand until March 28th, 2021. More information about MCT, its virtually reimagined 20/21 season and how to purchase subscriptions or single tickets, can be found at

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