Late in Nothing but the Truth, an aging black librarian in the newly democratized South Africa (played by author John Kani) is asked if he can forgive the white policeman who killed his son during an apartheid-era public protest. There is no answer, but as Kani turns his tearful face from left to right, his eyes register the abiding terror of the question. Moments like this rise frequently out of Truth, a ramshackle and often stilted play that nonetheless offers a window on all the burning questions left behind by South Africa’s decades of racist misery, the way a ramshackle camp on the slopes of Mount Everest might offer a spectacularly broad view of the surrounding landscape.
Confronted with a rebellious daughter, a niece born in exile, and a black government that seems to treat him as unjustly as its white predecessor did, Kani’s character is too clearly a mouthpiece for the woes of his country’s honest citizenry, but the woes are real for all that. And the powerful gravitas with which Kani gives them voice rises up out of the script’s pat confrontations and predictable climaxes like a mighty African chant out of a tin-walled squatter township.