THE BLOOD KNOT, Excaliber Shakespeare Company of Chicago, at Heartland Studio Theater. It’s not easy to stage Athol Fugard’s metaphorical play about the conflicts between white and black South Africans: his convoluted and poetic politics make the plot’s logic of fear difficult to follow. And actors need to tread lightly between the play’s often conflicting realms of allegory and family drama: if a staging works, it works on both levels, showing the national politics informing the poignant conflict between two brothers, an educated man who could pass for white and an illiterate dark-skinned laborer.

The Excaliber Shakespeare Company of Chicago does not succeed. With dogged determination it reproduces all of Fugard’s weaknesses without ever reaching the emotional depths that could make The Blood Knot work. The characters are all bluster, and the performances are maimed by faltering accents, a slow pace, and distracting stage business with messy food and play money. On the cramped Heartland Studio Theater stage, the actors trip over carelessly stored props, exaggerate every gesture into stereotype, and shout their lines, battering the audience with empty portents and disconnected emotional noise.

–Carol Burbank