My buddy Bozakis and I were in Long Beach for the opening night of Valley Song by Athol Fugard. A play set in post-apartheid South Africa focusing on the relationship between grandfather and granddaughter.
The play is written after the collapse of apartheid where Veronica, played by Belle Guillory, is coming into her own realization that her dreams are bigger than the small farm she lives on with her Oupa, Buks Jonkers, played by Michael A. Shepperd.
The play is based on the life of Fugard who explains the story came directly from his life. “I am the author; I am the White man who bought the land Abraam (Buks) Jonkers is farming. From the moment I first met old Buks, I felt an incredible empathy with him. I realized that but for the grace of God and circumstances, there go I. That old man with a handful of pumpkin seeds is really no different to Athol Fugard with a handful of words. He puts his seeds in the ground, I plant my words on paper. We’re both in the growing business.”
“My hope led me to Valley Song, which is a play about transition,” the playwright said in an interview. “It’s about the challenge that one generation, my own, faces, when the world in which it had grown up in, and in which, for better or for worse, was comfortable, suddenly starts changing. A challenge to my generation to realize that you’ve got to let change happen, you’ve got to let go, to let life go its own way. And then a challenge to the younger generation to step boldly and with confidence and with faith in themselves into an uncertain future.”
When Valley Song premiered at the Market Theater in Johannesburg, Fugard directed and also starred in the double role of Buks and the Author. That production went on to tour the U.S., including runs at the McCarter Theatre, Manhattan Theatre Club, the Kennedy Center and Mark Taper Forum.
The story follows Veronicas’ love for singing. Every night while her Oupa (grandfather) sleeps, she breaks away from the farm to peek over the fence of her neighbors home who watches television and listens to all forms of music, which piqued her interest.
Veronica becomes so determined that she plans a getaway to Johannesburg to live with her best friend to find work and to become the “star” she believes she’s destined to be.
Meanwhile, Oupa dreams of the “white man” coming to buy his farm while contemplating what will become of him. As Veronica sings her first song about a bus that comes to town, it dredges up old memories of how her mother abandoned her and the family for greener pastures.
This play is very relatable to those who inspire to live out their dreams and take risks to leave everything they know to build on their future. This resonated with Guillory who comes from a small town in Texas who left for Hollywood with her dreams of landing on television like Veronica.
“As the eldest of eight children, I grew up in a town of around 25,000 people so it had the same feel of the small town the play is set in,” said Guillory.
When she spoke to us about the process for getting the role she explained at times she is competing against hundreds of actors that is then whittled down to a handful for consideration.
“Michael and I were paired together in our audition which created a very intimate environment that you see on the stage,” said Guillory.
Guillory also stars as Cricket in the SXSW 2022 Film Festival Audience Award Winner film, Bitch Ass which will release to theaters Oct. 14.
Her and Shepperd are the only characters, with Shepperd playing multiple roles as the author, preacher and Buks.
We really enjoyed the “after party” where we were able to mingle with Guillory and Shepperd to discuss our take on the play and what our guesses were about some of the content. Shepperd is the veteran actor having played on such tv shows as Curb Your Enthusiasm, Monk, and Criminal Minds, NCIS.
He also appeared in the stage play A Midsummer’ Night Dream that we saw at the Atwater Village Theatre which is a modern take on the Shakespeare play except it is based in Athens, GA not Athens, Greece.
Valley Song is playing at the International City Theatre and runs Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m., August 26 through September 11. Two preview performances take place on Wednesday, Aug. 24 and Thursday, Aug. 25, both at 8 p.m. Tickets are $49 on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays (except August 26, opening night, for which tickets are $55 and include a post show reception), and $52 at Sunday matinees. Low-priced tickets to previews are $37.
International City Theatre has formed a community partnership with the African American community in Long Beach with the purpose of bringing our diverse community together, raising funds for college scholarships, and bringing students to the production. A Community Partnership Package, which includes a pre-performance Gala dinner as well as the post-show reception with the actors on opening night, is $125; tables of ten are available for $1,200.
International City Theatre is located in the Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center at 330 East Seaside Way, Long Beach, CA 90802.
To purchase tickets and for more information, including up-to-date Covid-19 safety protocols on the day of each performance, call (562) 436-4610 or go to www.InternationalCityTheatre.org.