COUSINS: A Memoir Theatre by Athol Fugard

COUSINS: A Memoir Theatre

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Memories of two male relatives whom the noted South African playwright believes helped inspire him to write, mingled with bittersweet recollections of his youth, in a poignant but underdeveloped memoir. Fugard idolized his slightly older Cousin Johnnie, a maternal relative from the tightly knit Afrikaner side of the family. Johnnie's piano playing ""stirred up wonderfully turbulent feelings"" in his cousin, who improvised words to accompany it for performance pieces they called ""musical stories."" Cousin Garth Fugard, a troubled man 14 years Athol's senior, prompted much more ambivalent emotions; during his periodic visits, proclamations of turning over a new leaf were inevitably followed by drinking binges. The key to Garth's alcoholism and inability to settle down finally emerged when he confessed to his cousin that he was a homosexual; Athol, realizing that he had already guessed this, had his ""first experience of that most essential of all writers' faculties--intuition."" This connection of a personal moment with ruminations on the creative process is typical of the book, which is neither a full-fledged memoir nor a sustained examination of how his plays evolved, but a rather uneven mix of the two. There are some lovely, evocative descriptions of the South African town Port Elizabeth and its gloomy lower-middle-class residents; touching portraits of Fugard's parents; and interesting accounts of the autobiographical elements in works from The Blood Knot to Master Harold . . . and the Boys. As was the case with Notebooks (1984), readers need to be quite familiar with Fugard's plays to gain much enlightenment from his unelaborated comments about their sources. In addition, distinguished though his career as a dramatist unquestionably is, there's a faintly smug, self-satisfied tone to many of his musings about writing that only underscores the sketchy nature of the insights offered here. Good enough to intrigue Fugard's admirers, but not good enough to draw in anyone else.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1997
Page count: 154pp
Publisher: Communications--dist. by Consortium