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Boesman and Lena

From 24 critic and 85 member reviews
Members say: Great acting, Intense, Absorbing, Slow, Great writing

About the show

In Athol Fugard's "Boesman and Lena," the human need for kindness, hope and compassion is on display in the struggles of abusive Boesman and his long-suffering wife Lena, who encounter a stranger while wandering the South African wastelands. More…

Legacy playwright Athol Fugard has made a home at Signature since being the inaugural Residency 1 playwright at the Center, and his South African-set stories, with themes of complex identities, racial tension, and social protest, remain as relevant as ever. 


"All the performances are brilliant-although Ngaujah, the original Fela in 'Fela!,' tends toward monolithic machismo-but Jah's work is extraordinary in its total immersion in the character: Lena's voice, her stance, her pained movement and her ability to find every grace note in Fugard's dark language take the play to unimaginable heights. She is worth a visit to the Signature to see acting at its finest and most heartbreaking." Full Review

Show Showdown

"Written in response to South Africa's apartheid laws, the play has only become more powerful and sad since apartheid ended. There's just so much need in the world...This is a deeply unsettling and moving piece of immersive theater that's not easy to sit through and that you should nevertheless try your damnedest to see. I haven't stopped thinking about how painful and dignified it is, how beautifully performed, how shattering." Full Review

Front Row Center

“A brilliant play...The production exposes yet another level of universality and humanity that underscores Fugard’s literary genius and shines a spotlight on the extraordinary talent of the cast and creative crew behind it...Farber has created a stunning production that is at once so familiar and yet on the passing edge of understanding that we sit breathless, like the characters, unsure of what the next moment will bring." Full Review

Lighting & Sound America

"As a portrait of life on the outer margins of existence, without a drop of mercy and absent any hope other than managing to live another day, 'Boesman and Lena' can be difficult to watch...But time and again, the play -- especially in Yaël Farber's majestic production -- delivers blazing insights into these characters...Farber has gotten superb work from her two leads...'Boesman and Lena' is, functionally, a two-hander, and Farber has cast the roles brilliantly." Full Review

Off Script with Dan Dwyer

“Under Farber’s vision, the mis-en-scene brings Beckett to mind. Indeed, the sparse, staging with a naked, dead tree reminds specifically of ‘Waiting for Godot’...Jah’s performance as Lena is as gripping and masterful as any that I have seen or expect to see on stage this season. Ms. Jah defines ‘Boesman and Lena’ as Lena’s tale of oppression and survival.” Full Review

Theater Pizzazz

"Stunning revival...Its themes and deep meanings seem to have expanded with time to encompass human suffering everywhere in the world today...Zainab Jah is magnificent in the role of Lena...Boesman – the powerful Sahr Ngaujah – rails against his fate...The beauty of Fugard’s classical plays lies in metaphor. The road from apartheid to freedom will be a long one (as we know, in retrospect), but Boesman and Lena are fated – or determined – to walk the walk." Full Review


“The first half of the play is a steady slow burn – which some may find tedious – that’s heavy on atmosphere and limited on plot. But when an unforced interloper enters the scene, deep-set emotions are triggered, resulting in a series of confrontational scenes that combust. The production is directed...with a solemn, bleak severity that befits the play...Ngaujah and Jah are superb, paradoxically delivering their lines with lilting musicality and furious intensity. It all makes for riveting th... Full Review

Front Mezz Junkies

"'Boesman and Lena', written with grit and determination by Athol Fugard...Within this rough and dirty play, as directed by Yaël Farber with tenderness and forcefulness underneath the bruised skin of these wanderers, a subtle elegance of unrelenting authenticity can’t be extinguished...It’s as existential as Godot...The silhouettes and the dynamic staging shatter our senses and muddy our souls.” Full Review

The New York Times

"Farber’s staging seems to complete this metamorphosis, clearly placing itself within the tradition of existential rather than political drama...In Farber’s unrelentingly bleak staging — time disappears...we could be in any era, ancient or modern. So too with the characters, whose specific plight is sanded so smooth we barely see them as an estranged couple anymore...They are solo archetypes of the broader human condition, regardless of race or poverty." Full Review

Times Square Chronicles

“Written fifty years ago ‘Boseman and Lena’ is meant to show the effects of Apartheid segregation and displacement. What it shows how differently men and women see life...The cast has a lot of lines that at times seem a little too high pitched or under breath but these are still wonderfully enriched characterizations...Farber’s has you entrenched into their hellish world...This play will make you grateful...despite any troubles and compassionate for those who have lived this hell.” Full Review

Theater News Online

"Jah - a standout in such works as 'Eclipsed' and 'Venus' - gives one of the season's most extraordinary performances as Lena, a woman who should be utterly defeated by everything life has thrown at her: dead children, poverty, body aches and the now-perpetually angry Boesman. Still, she rails and wails, often without making much sense. Yet it's always clear she's talking just to make sure she's alive." Full Review


"It's a tough play to watch, and at times, Farber takes things a bit too far. But with its three virtuosic performances and brilliant staging, this two-hour journey is unquestionably worth taking...Farber's production captures the appalling injustices and cycles of abuse perpetuated by apartheid...Though 'Boesman and Lena' shares some of the existential themes of 'Godot,' it has none of its humor...Fugard shows us a world of intolerable iniquity with little room for that kind of joy." Full Review

Broadway & Me

"Jah is a joy to watch as she moves effortlessly from the puckishness of taunting Boesman...Ngaujah is given a more limited palette to work with but he digs deep...Farber, herself South African, emphasizes the bleakness of these character’s lives with an intentionally hermetic production...Some people I know have harrumphed that her approach is too unrelentingly grim but I think it perfectly captures the anguish that millions of refugees around the world continue to experience." Full Review

New York Stage Review

"A formidable sense of doom hovers over Yaël Farber’s demanding production of 'Boesman and Lena'...Ngaujah turns in a frighteningly good performance as the bullying Boesman, all fire, fists, and fury. Meanwhile, Jah is every inch his match and more." Full Review

The Wrap

"In director Yaël Farber’s deliberately discomfiting new revival the drama plays less as history than as allegory...Jah and Ngaujah are fully committed to these roles, and they don’t let anyone off the hook — not each other and not the audience, whom they stare down at several points in the intermission-less production, even during the curtain call." Full Review

Theatre is Easy

"A timeless and nuanced look at the need for compassion...Signature Theatre’s production of this enduring drama resonates deeply on an intellectual and emotional level; the play's central pair can be everyone and no one. Empathetically directed by Yaël Farber, it is an unrelenting two hours of stunning imagery and cyclical dialogue...You can’t help but notice the parallels between this play and every recent story of homelessness and the plight of refugees on the news." Full Review


“As written fifty years ago by the now-celebrated 86-year-old, the refugee couple, played with stark sensitivity by Ngaujah and Jah in director Farber's exquisitely somber production, are carrying everything they own as they seek a spot in the mud flats of the river Swartkops to settle for the night...Forgoing a linear plot, ‘Boesman and Lena’ is a study of how inhumane treatment can transform those who lose their identity by systematic abuse.” Full Review

Time Out New York

"Farber...emphasizes its timelessness...While the production is powerful from an intellectual perspective, it can be emotionally numbing...Only when Boesman and Lena's routine is disrupted do they start to tear at your soul...'Boesman and Lena' may leave you impressed at the resilience of the spirit or depressed by the revolting way people continue to treat each other. Either way, it is a challenge to endure." Full Review


"That 'Boesman and Lena' tested my endurance is not necessarily a complaint as the drama itself is purposefully calculated to do just that...Fugard's characters in general are known for lengthy speeches that tend toward the extraordinarily lyrical and colorful. Some of this becomes wearying even as we marvel at their stamina. But it's also poignantly relevant as we identify with their plight." Full Review

Talkin' Broadway

"Bleak, angry, and violent, 'Boesman and Lena' is a difficult play to watch, and director Yaël Farber does not make it any easier in her production choices. The two-act play is performed without intermission, so it is an emotionally draining two hours...As Lena, Jah is utterly and scarily convincing...Ngaujah is equally strong." Full Review

Theatre's Leiter Side

“A heavy dose of bleak, nearly humorless drama requiring…patience. Its language, spoken in the heavy accents of poor South Africans, is abundantly rich and provocative, and the performances of all three actors are excellent, but the material is relentlessly depressing. There are verbose monologues…and lots of angry shouting...Much of the play moves slowly, repetitiousness is evident, and dramatic developments are rare. Its two uninterrupted hours…can wear out even the most sympathetic listener.” Full Review

Gotham Playgoer

“The main strength of this production is the acting. Zainab Jah is superb as Lena and Silcott is haunting as the old man...Ngaujah is a bit problematic; his Boesman is so relentlessly unpleasant that there is no inkling of why Lena would ever have been drawn to him. I don’t know whether the problem is in the script or in the performance...The play is all too timely. It is also one of the most depressing plays I have ever seen.” Full Review

Exeunt Magazine

"Unlike Beckett’s play, its dramatic tension goes slack for long sections and it’s difficult to jump back in when it ramps up again...Farber’s production creates an intoxicating atmosphere that immediately transforms the theatre into its location visually, aurally, and even olfactorily...In its repetitiveness, the play is wont to fall out of the taut, attention-grabbing moments of its best sections, but Jah’s performance is so alive that it is a constant pleasure to watch.” Full Review

New York Theater

"This 'Boesman and Lena' comes off largely as allegorical, a 'Waiting for Godot' with African characters. At two hours long without an intermission, this abstracted and depressing 'Boesman and Lena' is easier to respect than to sit through...It was apartheid that victimizes Boesman and Lena a second time...This feels less understood in this production...But other recent productions of Fugard’s plays at Signature seemed more clearly rooted in their specific time and place." Full Review

Riveting, Relevant, Masterful, Great staging, Great acting

See it if Brilliant theater ... so much to unpack. Flawless performances and exquisite production. Must see ... “Freedom is a long walk”

Don't see it if Run don’t walk.

Resonant, Relevant, Intelligent, Great acting, Exquisite

See it if you love phenomenal acting where you lose yourself in the character's struggles and appreciate the total absorption into their roles.

Don't see it if You prefer a more realistic script.

Intense, Masterful, Great writing, Great acting, Absorbing

See it if 2 hrs of unrelenting pain in S Africa, made great by Zainab Jah's stunning Lena and Fugard's insightful, occasionally beautiful wrtiting

Don't see it if you are looking for something fluffy and cheerful.

Must see, Great writing, Great staging, Great acting, Absorbing

See it if You like brilliant acting haunting music and fancy a show about a struggle of a couple on an endless journey. Athol Fugard a genius.

Don't see it if If you like lots of comedy action musical numbers , this is fiercely contained masterful subtle drama.

Great acting, Intense, Riveting

See it if You appreciate a somewhat existential intense and moving play. Brilliant writing from Athol Fugard, a great performance from Zainab Jah

Don't see it if You want non-stop action and laughs.

Heart breaking, Great acting, Absorbing

See it if u can deal with the horror of apartheid that sadly lives on... like magnificent acting, writing and direction

Don't see it if u want 2 miss a tour de force performance by zainab jah

Mesmerizing, Slow, Great writing, Absorbing

See it if you want to see a new interpretation of a classic play. Also, a stunning performance by Zainab Jah.

Don't see it if you can't sit for two hours. Also, if you are not interested in how apartheid treats displaced people.

Also Kudos to the Signature Theatre for resurrecting this classic play and ... Read more Read less

Profound, Great writing, Ambitious, Absorbing, Great acting

See it if You enjoy intelligent theatre,having your consciousness raised, and appreciate a brilliant playwright.

Don't see it if you just want to be entertained and not have to think.

Thought-provoking, Intense, Masterful, Great staging, Absorbing

See it if You love Athol Fugard and are eager to confront issues of class and race; want to truly think about the plight of the impoverished.

Don't see it if If you want light entertainment that makes you feel good when you leave the theatre. No toe tapping here but great acting.

Absorbing, Great staging, Great writing, Great acting

See it if see it if you like Fugard sho is great and terrific acting and absorbing story

Don't see it if you do not like to sit for two hours no intermission and have trouble with S African dialogue

Great acting, Great writing, Absorbing, Relevant, Long

See it if a show written about apartheid but relevant to a variety of issues today including abuse & refuges, homelessness; very emotional dialogue

Don't see it if verbose monologues during a 2 hour intermission-less play, physical abuse against a woman; want something uplifting

Also Not my favorite Fugard play. (Doesn't come close to Painted Rocks.. or... Read more Read less

Trio performs powerful tone poem that both shows how apartheid grinds down black south africans but how human spirit is unquenchable

See it if moving; audience stunned by tragedy of characters uprooted, dehumanized by apartheid; Zainab Jah amazing Lena trying to retain her humanity

Don't see it if play starts slowly on moonscape mudflats where Boesman/Lena 1st appear but soon stage filled w rage/conflict offset by small acts of grace

Also (1) Violence: Boesman beats Lena and is generally abusive towards her.... Read more Read less

Intelligent, Relevant, Thought-provoking

See it if if you haven't seen this rarely produced Fugard play; superb acting about valuing or not valuing human beings in any era. Deeply emotional.

Don't see it if you can't tolerate 2 hours of profoundly demanding drama including some in untranslated language with no intermission.

Resonant, Intense, Great writing, Great staging, Great acting

See it if Fugard is one of the greatest playwrights on the planet, and his work is not performed often enough. this is a devastatingly fine production

Don't see it if as noted above, it is devastating. This is not a light evening, and it is nearly devoid of humor, though there are traces of hope....

Beautifully played, Uneven, Spare, Powerful

See it if you’d like to see 3 powerful performances in a beautiful production of an important play from 1 of our playwriting giants.

Don't see it if 2 uninterrupted hours of intensity would put too great of a strain on you.

Also On the night I saw the current Signature revival of “Boesman and Lena”... Read more Read less

Thought-provoking, Relevant, Intense, Great acting, Absorbing

See it if If you are interested in seeing the sad condition of people living under Apartheid. Fantastic acting. Hard to watch but important to watch

Don't see it if you don't like Athol Fugard although for me it was the best of his plays that I have seen.

Serious, Powerful, Intense, Great acting, Absorbing

See it if You enjoy serious dramas with deep implied meaning. You are interested in how systemic oppression can ricochet into personal lives.

Don't see it if You want a comedy or something light. You want plot over character drama. You don't like looking for themes in the play.

Intense, Brooding, Resonant, Slow, Great acting

See it if Two discarded apartheid slum dwellers trudge through life, angry at the world and each other. Haunting poetic language.

Don't see it if You don't want to stew in desperate abandonment. I was mesmerized & saw the human condition in them.

Also Something that's been used too long. The old pot that leaks, the blank... Read more Read less

Great acting, Absorbing

See it if Fugard restores the political violence to Godot in a devastating production.

Don't see it if Some will find this tedious, others hypnotic. Little humor or overt action to break from the bleakness.

Mournful, Slow, Intense, Great writing, Absorbing

See it if Amazing to see this play from the 1960s. Sadly, applicable today just in other places. You feel the desperation, dehumanizing and despair.

Don't see it if It is long and very sad. Had talk back -Fugard wanted it performed without intermission. VERY MOVING. Go if you can.

Intense, Thought-provoking, Great acting, Great writing

See it if You appreciate great acting in a msterful play and aren't bothered by a non-linear storyline.

Don't see it if You're not into a Brechtian-styled piece with only a few actors and a dark premise.

Also Fugard's play is a solid representation of fear and of dread, as the t... Read more Read less

Great acting, Disappointing, Indulgent, Slow, Intelligent

See it if You are a fan of the playwright. If a brilliant performance Zainab Jah is enough to satisfy you. If you have great patience.

Don't see it if You prefer plot driven plays. You prefer lighter, more optimistic fare.

Thought-provoking, Profound, Masterful

See it if you can pay close attention to a play that is very dark and philosophical more so than anything "happening" and appreciate superb acting.

Don't see it if you need a robust storytelling versus a play about struggle and humanity on a deep level where you just take it in.

Intense, Absorbing, Great acting, Riveting, Tragic

See it if very good acting is important to you; Fugard's view of South Africa is meaningful to you even if painful

Don't see it if you prefer fun or funny plays; you like musicals or comedies; you have no interest in a slow-moving play

Absorbing, Great acting, Ambitious, Edgy

See it if This is an amazing presentation of the human agony of loss, displacement, and attachment.

Don't see it if You don’t want to be provoked to think about life’s pain.

Cast & Creatives (9)