The love of another versus the love of land. Honoring roots of one’s past versus living the promise for one’s future. The leftover familiarities of colonialism versus the still unknowns of freedom. And of course, white versus black.
These are just a few of the powerful dichotomies that surface, clash, and explode in a play where the boundaries between lust-filled attraction and physical violence become ever more indistinct. Mies Julie by Yael Farber is a tense, sweat-producing, and often disturbing look at the inhabitants of one farm in South Africa, twenty-three years post-Apartheid. While freedoms and equalities have now had a quarter century to gel, their questionable impacts on day-to-day life, attitudes, and especially relationships come under microscopic scrutiny in a play stunningly stark, beautiful, and shocking all at the same time.
John and Julie grew up together largely under the care of John’s mother, Christine. Julie is the daughter of the rich, white landowner of a farm where several generations of Christine’s black family worked in the former, separated and strictly apartheid society. Now in the new South Africa, Christine still washes floors on her hands and knees, and John polishes the landowner’s boots while by are living in a shack in a house whose kitchen floor covers the graves of Christine’s family.
Julie and John have long had attraction for each other, but there is still an almost owner/slave relationship that comes out in the sneering commands Julie makes of him and in the way he always refers to her with a snarled look as “Mies Julie.” Yet in both, their eyes that lock in lust and their bodies that tighten at the slightest touch betray the attraction that draws them ever closer with a magnetic force viscerally powerful. Increasingly, the pull between them is so strong that it becomes evident that their union will generate sparks of a fire that has the potential to destroy unless they can extinguish some of the past prejudices and uproot some of pull the land itself has on both of them, each for different reasons.
Yael Farber directs her play with a physicality that places great demands on the two principle actors as bodies collide, fall, combine, and hurl in ways where the border between lovemaking and violence becomes almost indistinguishable. Hilda Cronje (Julie) and Bongile Mantasi (John) each give performances that are exhilarating and exhausting to watch, so much do they require of themselves to meet the demands of their playwright/director. Each at times shows contempt for the other through voices that denote years of one acting/being the superior over the other. At other times, each succumbs to the heart-pounding need to be in the other’s arms, to feel their lips and limbs together, and finally to unite as one entity of equals. But the land under them has its own rules, its own heritage, and its own boundaries; and equality, union, and lasting love beyond lust becomes a struggle that quickly becomes a war. In this battle, both these actors are frightfully fierce combatants.
Rating: 5 E
Meet Me at Dawn
Traverse Theatre and Edinburgh International Festival
Onto the small, slightly raised stage with only an abandoned sink sunk into surrounding sand, two women stumble, their clothes and hair soaked. The two partners-in-life have just survived a boat accident after renting a sloop even though neither were experienced with a small boat in the ocean. As one is vomiting salt water into the nearby sink (Robin) and the other (Helen) is practically strutting about the beach crowing in her exuberance of swimming to survival, the two quickly come to the realization that they have no idea where they are, how to get home, or when/if someone may come looking for them. Zinne Harris’s Meet Me at Dawn is presented in world premiere by Traverse Theatre and the Edinburgh International Festival and is a searingly powerful play that is musically lyrical in its language, enticingly mysterious in its subtle clues, and heart-wrenchingly moving in its final messages.
As reality sets in that they are not really sure if they are on some new part of the shore or in fact on an island, Robin and Helen each react in ways that the other clearly both understands but also has for a long time found irritating. Helen is already figuring out how to solve their problem, creating “SOS” sand messages that maybe a small, search plane will see. Robin is being more practical and skeptical of this and other ideas Helen has for remedying their situation, a pattern they both seem to admit has occurred often before. But other, stranger things begin to occur. Helen sees a shore not that far away that Robin fails to see (irritating Helen to no end). Robin discovers a dead moth in Helen’s hair and begins to remember she has seen that moth before while standing at their kitchen sink with the water running. Robin keeps upsetting Helen by referring to ‘my’ bedroom and ‘my’ garden rather than ‘ours,’ something Robin embarrassingly is quick to correct. And then there is the crazy lady who suddenly shows up who only echoes what the women ask/say to her but who also begins to remind Helen of someone she has met before.
The mysteries mount as the situation becomes more serious; and the tensions between the two increase as questions become more numerous than their obvious answers/explanations. How did they get here really? Why is Robin having these mental moments of recall of things she cannot remember really happening? And where did that dry piece of candy come from in Helen’s pocket when she never eats the stuff?
Both Neve McIntosh (Robin) and Shawn Duncan-Brewster (Helen) give monumentally impressive performances that slowly and increasingly draw the audience into the realization that there is much more going on than just a boat wreck. Each shows a wide range of emotions without ever being anything less than spontaneously natural in their responses in ways that any one of us might be were we stranded on some sandy, abandoned shore after being tossed from a boat into the ocean.
Oral O’Loughlin masterfully directs a play that in the end will touch chords in meaningful ways for every audience member who has ever grieved a loss or felt terribly alone even when others are nearby going on in their day-to-day routines. Zinnie Harris has taken a common life experience; placed it in an unfamiliar, unknown location under somewhat bizarre circumstances; and given us a mystery whose resolution has the possibility of providing insights and healing to those watching as well as the characters being watched.
A new play entices its audience as a “historical play set in the middle of the twentieth century when the British rulers were thrown out by Gandhi and Indians of all classes surged to fill the vacuum created by their departure.” I Am Your Love Story — written and directed by Pramila Le Hunte — meets some of those expectations in a production that clearly the actors involved are sincere and serious about their efforts. Unfortunately, in the end the world premiere is too much a mixed-up mash-up of incongruous characters, of story lines that bump into alley ways where they get lost or confusing, of musical interludes that have nothing to do with the historical period nor India-based culture/location, and of an abrupt video interlude about present-day Syrian atrocities that frankly has no easily ascertained connection to the story. And to top it all off, after rambling around through multiple scenes and an ending that is happy for the two British visitors but does little to do with or say about Indians they have met, we as an audience are suddenly forced to sit through an almost ten-minute meditation for peace that has absolutely nothing to do with the play which we have just watched. Clearly, this is a work still in the making that needs re-routing to the workshop stage before further productions.
Rating; 1 E
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