The revolution will definitely be dramatized

We must accept the consequences of when and where we are born,” says a character in Athol Fugard’s blistering 1978 race drama “A Lesson From Aloes.” How hard was it to resist in mid-20th-century South Africa? How difficult was it to entertain new ideas?...

[Aloes is an] intimate listening experience. Fugard’s “Lesson,” set in 1963 as Nelson Mandela stood trial for inciting opposition to the apartheid government, is an old-fashioned three-character drama, unfolding over one long day as a white South African and his high-strung wife argue with a black friend; they’re all cracking under the pressure of the country’s racist system. The play is a methodical airing of arguments, and the Quotidian Theatre Company’s performance on the small Writer’s Center Stage in Bethesda is subdued...

...The drama of “Lesson” lies in the mistrust that germinates in South Africa’s oppressive political regime and infects even the tightest of circles, the marriage between the liberal Afrikaner Piet (David Dubov) and his wife, Gladys (Laura Russell). Gladys suffered a breakdown after the police raided their home and stole her diaries. Why the raid? Who betrayed the circle of protesters that included Piet and his black friend Steve (Addison Switzer)? Was it Piet?

Under Laura Giannarelli’s attentive direction, the actors are persuasive with the accents — Gladys’s is English, Piet rolls his r’s as an Afrikaner — and with the personal schisms. But as they play the long scenes on the simple set that suggests an edge-of-the-desert home, the drama just doesn’t combust. This is a story of back stories: It takes a while for them to explain why Gladys broke down, why Piet is isolated, why Steve and Piet’s friendship has snapped. The scalding social pressure that reduces South Africans to something as prickly as Piet’s aloe plants is a heat you never really feel.

Nelson Pressley's first byline was 1992. He has been overing theater for the Post since 1999. His book "American Playwriting and the Anti-Political Prejudice" came out in 2014. Follow Nelson on Twitter: @nelsonpressley.