South African writer Athol Fugard began his career during the apartheid era and gained worldwide fame by writing about issues of interracial relations. But, as this early play suggests, he has alternated racially themed works with more-domestic concerns.
When the play begins, Johnnie (producer-director Jonny Kahleyn) is living in a squalid house in Elizabethtown, South Africa, supposedly taking care of his abusive, penny-pinching, God-obsessed invalid father, who lost a leg in an industrial accident. His sister, Hester (Kate Vozoff), who left home 15 years earlier, suddenly returns in hopes of copping a share of Dad's disability allotment. Both siblings have fallen on evil days, and nothing is quite what it seems. Painful revelations ensue.
The play suggests that the characters were in their late teens or early 20s when Hester fled to the big city and Johnnie abandoned his hopes of becoming a railroad engineer. Both Kahleyn and Vozoff are rather more mature, suggesting that the family breakup occurred when they were in their 30s. American theatre is not inclined to insist on age-appropriate casting, but here age matters. A woman who leaves home at 30 is very different from a runaway girl, and Johnnie's blighted career takes on a different coloration. The play is skewed, and some loss of credibility results.
Otherwise, the production is respectable but unexciting. Kahleyn, attempting to serve as his own director, fails to supply the punctuation and dynamics that might have made it compelling. Vozoff plays Hester with quiet authority, and she's always convincing. Kahleyn is handicapped by a European accent that sorts ill with Vozoff's plain American diction, and he mars an otherwise credible performance with Method fidgeting.
The uncredited kitchen-living room-bedroom set is appropriately cluttered, but the overbusy lighting is more distracting than helpful.
Presented by and at Studio/Stage. 520 N. Western Ave., Hollywood. Fri.-Sat. 7:30 p.m., Sun. 5 p.m. Sep. 22-Oct. 1. www.helloandgoodbyeplay.com.