Friday, January 30, 2009
I saw “As You Like It” by William Shakespeare. We have a Shakespeare in the Park event once a year in the summer where they put on one play. People usually picnic in the park before hand. It was lovely. I went between three groups of friends there. If you like Shakespeare then you would have enjoyed yourself. It wasn’t the best acting, but it was fun. It was probably the darkest comedy I have ever seen. The director had this Xhosa Warrior guy who acted like some kind of forest spirit or something who was invisible but in many scenes and he would dance and move. It provided nice interludes. And he acted as the deer that was caught and hunted by some of the characters who lived in the forest. At the end at the wedding celebration people did South African style dance to Black South African folk music. It’s really interesting to see. If you know the story, the Duke banished to the forest acted like a New Age/Eastern religious leader/healer and his band of hippie Western followers. It was quite funny. The Duke who did the banishing was like from the Spanish Inquisition. All his henchman had huge crosses on their black garments with large hoods that hid their faces. It was quite interesting. It was definitely a mix of times and places in one play. It’s always interested to see how people reinterpret Shakespeare, but this guy did a few different time periods in one play. It was funny. The best characters were not the main ones. But they were captivating when they were on the stage, whether speaking or not. It’s also funny to hear some South African accents slip through the English ones, but I’m not sure if they did it on purpose or not.
I saw this play about an incident in 2003 or 2002 about a child rape. The child was 9 months and almost died. They had 6 guys in custody but found out that their DNA did not match the DNA of the semen found on the baby. Later the police found out it was the live-in boyfriend (who was married to someone else) of the mother. He wanted intercourse from her, and she wanted alcohol. She gave him the baby and she went off to the tavern and got drunk. He violated that child almost to death. It became big news and apparently more child rape cases came to the news. So there has been a growing awareness about it since then.
It was a powerful play, one of the best I have seen since being here in South Africa, and it was done in a very small intimate theatre. It’s being made into a movie, so the writer/director of it is quite happy along with the man (it was only a 2-person cast) who was the main character who was the original actor since 2003. The actress was new and had only been doing it for 2 weeks for this production in Cape Town.
There is lots that I could say about the play from the female Christ imagery which challenges gender roles (Tshepang is not the actual baby’s name, but the name given to the baby by the town; it means Savior) in the play to the visual motif of beds. At one point in the play the main character sat on the actual large bed, while the silent actress (lost in her grief) laid her head and shoulders on a small bed and a very tiny bed made for a dollhouse was empty. They represented to me the three characters and levels of development—the baby whose life was cut short before even 1 yr, the mother whose growth had long since stopped as she lived for men and alcohol, and the main character whose growth was the most with his perspicacity into the situation yet still faced stunted growth himself. The most amazing work was done by the girl, the actress. She had much work to do to act for an entire play without speaking. Only the best actors (opinion) can act without words. It’s harder because you lose one of the main tools of the actor.
The toughest moment came when the main actor relived the actual rape on the mid-sized bed (size of a person’s back) using a loaf of bread and a broom stick in a small spotlight. You know how people understand the interaction between an actor and the audience with comedies. Laughter can fuel an actor and teach him timing (whether to linger or go on). There is a give and take. The same happens, though harder to detect, in dramas. Gasps, silences, and in this case pure crying communicate to an actor. People were crying, sniffling, bawling controllably. You had to try to control it; it was such a small intimate space and you didn’t want to ruin the play but at one point I became aware that it was not the actress that was crying but several people in the audience.
They had trouble getting it funded in the era overflowing from the “New South Africa” which was all about joy and peace and prosperity and truth and freedom. So it was harder to get back to the reality of life since Mandela, that there are many problems we still have, from which we still have not escaped. There’s much work to do.