Zakes Mokae, 75, lead villain in "The Serpent and the Rainbow", has died.

Discussion in 'General' started by Wayne Manor, Sep 22, 2009.

  1. Wayne Manor

    Wayne Manor New Member

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    "Zakes Mokae, a Tony-winning South African actor whose partnership with his countryman, the playwright Athol Fugard, in plays like “The Blood Knot,” “Boesman and Lena” and “Master Harold ... and the Boys,” brought the insidious psychological brutality of apartheid to the attention of a world audience, died in Las Vegas on Friday. He was 75 and lived in Las Vegas and Cape Town.

    The cause was complications of a stroke he had on May 6, said his wife, Madelyn. He had previously received diagnoses of Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, she said.

    Mr. Mokae, who was black, and Mr. Fugard, who is white, were part of a drama collective in South Africa in the 1950s. In 1960, when they performed together in Mr. Fugard’s play about brothers with skins of different hues, “The Blood Knot,” it was the first time, Mr. Fugard said in an interview Monday, that black and white performers had appeared on the same stage in South Africa. The play not only defied a national taboo, but also propelled Mr. Fugard to international fame as a playwright and Mr. Mokae to a rich and varied career in theater, film and television.

    The play’s local fame persuaded an English producer to open it in London, where Mr. Mokae continued to act in it, though Mr. Fugard did not. It was a sensation (despite a scathing review by Kenneth Tynan). As Mr. Fugard continued to explore the corrosive effects of racial separatism on the individual psyches of both blacks and whites in subsequent plays, Mr. Mokae took on key roles in several of them. In “Boesman and Lena,” about a mixed-race couple migrating from one bleak settlement to another, both emotionally embittered and inextricably yoked by their predicament, Mr. Mokae appeared in the 1970 American premiere Off Broadway, with Ruby Dee and James Earl Jones. Mr. Mokae first played an old black man, nearly incapable of communicating, who nonetheless befriends Lena, and later took over for Mr. Jones as Boesman.

    In “A Lesson From Aloes” he played a political activist who confronts a white man, a former friend he fears may be a government informer, taking the role in regional theater and appearing as an understudy to Mr. Jones on Broadway.

    And in 1982 he won a Tony for his performance as Sam, one of two servants working in a tea room in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, in “Master Harold,” the first of Mr. Fugard’s works to have its world premiere outside of South Africa. In the play Sam looms as a surrogate father for a spoiled white teenager, whose frustrations with his actual parents result in the eventual manifestation of his ugly, racist upbringing. The play had its roots in his own childhood, Mr. Fugard said, and the character of Sam in two men he himself had known.

    “I knew I wanted Zakes in that defining role in the play,” Mr. Fugard said.

    Zakes Makgona Mokae (pronounced ZAYKES Muh-KWA-nuh Mo-KYE) was born in Johannesburg on Aug. 5, 1934. In vicious times in South Africa, he was jailed several times as a young man. He was playing saxophone in a jazz band in the late 1950s when he was introduced to Mr. Fugard by a black journalist, Bloke Modisane, who was helping Mr. Fugard create a theater that was specifically about South African life, a theater that did not exist at the time. He had had no previous acting experience, but Mr. Fugard, sensing a bond between them, cast him in two plays even before “The Blood Knot.” When “The Blood Knot” was revived by the Yale Repertory Company in the United States in 1985, with Mr. Fugard and Mr. Mokae again acting together, it was, Mr. Fugard said, among the most emotional occasions of his life.

    After “The Blood Knot” opened in London, Mr. Mokae was barred from returning to South Africa. He did not return until 1982, when he learned his brother James was to be hanged for murders committed during a robbery, though it was unclear whether James was present during the killings. Mr. Mokae, who learned of the death sentence on the night he won his Tony Award, returned to Johannesburg in time to witness his brother’s execution.

    In addition to his wife, whom he married in 1966, divorced in 1978 and then remarried in 1985, he is survived by two sisters and two brothers in South Africa; a daughter, Santlo Chontay Mokae, of Atlanta; and three grandchildren. Mrs. Mokae said they moved back to South Africa in 2005, while his mind was still mostly intact, “so he could live under freedom there and have some memory of it.”

    Mr. Mokae’s many films included “The Comedians,” “Darling,” “Cry Freedom” and “A Dry White Season.” In 1993 he was nominated for a Tony for a supporting role in “The Song of Jacob Zulu,” a first play by a white playwright, Tug Yourgrau, about the South African trial of a black activist. Mr. Mokae played a man who had spent much of his life in prison.

    “If you’re a black man in South Africa and you’ve never been in prison there’s something wrong with you,” Mr. Mokae said in an interview with The New York Times at the time, adding that a tirade spewed by his character had grown out of conversations he had with Mr. Yourgrau.

    “Tug hasn’t been in prison a lot with black folks, so I had to talk about it with him,” Mr. Mokae said. “It’s true that when they count you at night they walk on your face with their boots. And they do it all night. All night, somebody’s being beaten. Somebody’s screaming. That stuff to me, it’s real. You have to tell a white person, ‘That’s what it is,’ so that he gets it, the filth and the stink, the kind of poetry that comes out of that.”
     
  2. Katatonia

    Katatonia Hellbound Heart

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  3. indiephantom

    indiephantom Horny Spirit

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    R.I.P. This guy had tremendous screen presence. I just bought The Serpent and the Rainbow as part of the Wes Craven Collection. It's going to be playing at our local rep house theatre as part of their October marathon and I hope to see the film on the big screen. I was old enough when it came out, but I remember only getting to see it on video.
     
  4. Erick H.

    Erick H. Well-Known Member

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    A big talent(and a true pioneer),he will be sorely missed,Rest In Peace
     
  5. zompirejoe

    zompirejoe Active Member

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  6. Harry Warden

    Harry Warden Well-Known Member

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    RIP Zakes. He was truly amazing as the villain in Serpent and the Rainbow. Quite a chilling performance.
     
  7. fceurich39

    fceurich39 Well-Known Member

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    an awesome performance i didn't care for the serpent in the rainbow movie that much but his performance in that movie was truly terrifying
     

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