Boesman And Lena

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Boesman And Lena

In spite of the close relationship between the two artistic forms, play-to-film adaptations tend to underline the great gulf between the theater and the cinema. Even the best plays can look ridiculous on the screen, as anyone who's endured one of many lousy Shakespeare adaptations can attest. The newest adaptation of Athol Fugard's Boesman And Lena does better than a lot of theatrical transplants, but even with some considerable advantages, it rarely works as more than a filmed record of an important play. The theatrical conscience of Apartheid-era South Africa, Fugard brought the problems of his country to the fore through such racially charged plays as Blood Knot and Master Harold... And The Boys. First staged in 1969 and previously filmed in 1974, Boesman completed Fugard's "Family Trilogy" and continued his use of Beckett-spare, allegorical productions to challenge the state of South African race relations. Apartheid's fall hasn't dulled Boesman's relevance, nor its portrayal of racism's psychic wounds, as evidenced in a homeless couple played by Danny Glover and Angela Bassett. Thrown out of their temporary shelter, Glover and Bassett move to the beach, where they launch into a heated discussion of their past, Glover's abuse, Bassett's drinking, and a plan for the future. Later, they encounter a homeless Xhosa tribesman with whom Bassett tries to communicate, while Glover, spotting someone lower on the social ladder than himself, shuns him. Excellent performances by Bassett and Glover help humanize a work that could have toppled under its own symbolic weight, and once-blacklisted director John Berry, an Orson Welles collaborator who died during post-production, breaks up the claustrophobia with widescreen photography and effective use of flashbacks. In the end, however, Boesman produces the same divided consciousness of so many theatrical adaptations: It feels like it belongs on the stage, where it almost certainly would have had an impact, instead of on the screen, where its surface-level symbolism and circuitous dialogue don't.