Gamm Theatre’s artistic director, Tony Estrella, sums up Nicolas Wright’s “A Human Being Died That Night,” based on a book by black female psychologist Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, as “a searing true story about the levels of forgiveness required for a society to move on from deplorable acts of violence.”
Judith Swift directs the two-character, 80-minute, one-act play tightly, playing on your emotions and intellect and forcing you to deal with the possibilities of redemption and reconciliation, not only for its main character but for society as a whole.
Eugene de Kock (Gamm veteran Jim O’Brien) is a white South African policeman serving two life sentences plus 212 years for torturing and killing anti-apartheid activists. Psychologist Pumla Godobo-Madikizela (Boston-based actress Kortney Adams), who served on South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, goes to prison to interview de Kock in an attempt to understand the man and his actions. What follows is 80 minutes of intense, thought-provoking theatre.
O’Brien gives a powerful performance of a man who has created evil acts and considers himself a scapegoat of a powerful regime. He questions whether he was responsible for his actions or merely following orders. Godobo-Madikizela wrestles with the actions of a brutal murderer and agonizes over this human being who seeks amnesty.
The question is larger than one man, as apartheid becomes a major issue and the psychologist looks beyond the evil acts of one person to the evil of society.
“A Human Being Died That Night” is at times a tough play to watch. The issues are huge and intense. There is little humor to break the mood.
O’Brien’s conflicting, at times uncontrollable, behavior keeps the tension level high. It is a brilliant performance.
Adams is a welcome addition to Gamm. At times I did have problems with the heavy South African accent, especially when she was at the opposite end of the stage. However, Gamm’s “up close and personal” play presentation brings you close to the characters and their movements and body language keep the audience personally involved.
At Gamm Theatre, 172 Exchange St., Pawtucket, through April 1. Tickets are $44-$60. Call 723-4266 for reservations.