Glasshouse, Play by Fatima Dike. Directed by Rina Yerushalmi. "Glasshouse" presents one aspect of South Africa's tragic racial impasse in terms of a fast friendship that cannot survive without compromise. As the play opens, white Linda Black (Maggie Soboil) and black Phumla Hlophe (Mary Alice) are discussing the ironic fact that Linda's late father has left a will making them equal heirs of his comfortable house in the Cape Town suburb of Constantia. Phumla, the grown daughter of longtime family retainers, observes ironically: "Your father has left us with a rich joke."
The well-meaning but naive Linda insists that the will is valid and that her father's wishes can be carried out. The more realistic Phumla's apprehensions are confirmed when a government official informs her that no black can own or inherit property in those parts of South Africa that the whites have reserved for themselves. The remainder of this slender but probing and sensitive play concerns the women's efforts to confront their dilemma and, if possible, find a solution.
Phumla bears the brunt of official repression and harassment. Having witnessed the killing of her employer by stone-throwing black youths, she is sharply examined by a police official who demands that she identify the guilty. She is brought before another official for having violated the Group Areas Act. (The successive Afrikaners are played by Miss Soboil in a mask). For most of the play's duration, the police keep the house under surveillance from a van parked across the street.
Although the women's crisis informs its immediate events, "Glasshouse" is even more concerned with showing how the relationship between Phumla and Linda developed, and what is now means to them. A series of flashbacks recalls shared childhood incidents, including a game of jacks played with small black pebbles. (No stones are thrown at this fragile glass house.) There are occasional soliloquies. At one point, Phumla asks rhetorically: "Why is it when I stand up to my full height, you push me back down?" Recognizing even her own whiteness as a trap, Linda asks: "White skin, where is your magic now?"
How the two women resolve their problem may be left for Miss Dike to unfold. Although some of the plotting seems almost too casual, she was written a thoughtful and touching study of a relationship involving both affection and mutual respect. That such a relationship can exist amid the forbidding circumstances of today's South Africa is no small part of the play's revelation. Under Rina Yerushalmi's direction, the two women are portrayed by Mary Alice and Maggie Soboil with deep and genuine perceptions of the text's mean ing and feeling -- not least of all its humor.