THE VIEW. Written and directed by Philip Rademeyer, with Ella Gabriel and Gideon Lombard. Design by Penny Youngleson. Presented by The Rust Co-Operative. At The Intimate Theatre, Hiddingh Campus, Orange Street until Friday. TRACEY SAUNDERS reviews.
BY THE time Gideon Lombard exhorts legions of white stallions to run faster in the final scene of this production, you are swept away with him in his vision of the final rapture. The View is an emotional roller-coaster ride and as the Pandora’s box of characters is opened, you will be horrified, surprised, frustrated and delighted.
Lombard occupies the centre of the stage and script. He has been sequestered to a cell because he is a homosexual. His final wish is granted and he is given a video of interviews with various people he has encountered in his life. The interviewees range from those who vilify and scorn him to those who love him.
The notion of banishing a man to solitary confinement because of his sexual orientation is unfortunately not beyond the realms of possibility. Rademeyer draws on the proclamations of Pastor Curtis Knapp from Kansas, who recommended that gays and lesbians be incarcerated and put to death by the state. On the African continent the speaker of the Ugandan parliament, Rebecca Kadaga, has assured advocates of the notorious Anti-Homosexuality Bill that it will be delivered as a Christmas gift.
While state-sanctioned discrimination is not yet being promoted in South Africa, individuals do not shy away from tormenting, raping and murdering gays and lesbians. Against this backdrop Rademeyer’s writing is close to reality.
Earlier this year, he directed The Lie, which explored the relationship between a rent boy and a married man. He has begun an exploration of a body of work which unveils the nature of queer theatre and develops characters that go beyond the strictures of drag queens, which are often the only representations of non-heteronormative identity seen on stages.
Pigeonholing the play as being merely concerned with notions of sexual identity, however, would be an injustice. Individual culpability and agency in the face of any social injustice is subtly examined. One of the many characters “interviewed” is a truck driver whose refrain of innocence is eerily reminiscent of Martin Niemöller’s statement which opens with the lines: “First they came for the communists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.”
It is the level of acting in this production, however, that gives life to the textured script. Lombard is an exquisite performer. His reminiscences of his initial meeting with his lover are poignant and will be achingly familiar to anyone who has ever fallen in love. The play is more than political rhetoric or social commentary and Lombard reveals the personal face of a man in love who is still hopeful. It is this fine thread of hope that he carries through the interviews that makes the final scene devastating.
Gabriel’s performances are executed with fine precision. Her portrayal of Blanche in A Street Car Named Desire earlier this year marked her as a talent to watch and she does not disappoint. Her physical malleability is surprising and the transformation from a rabbi to grieving mother interspersed with a macho two-tone-shirt-wearing father is a theatrical sight to behold.
The canny set design enables her to circle the stage and adroitly transform herself with little fanfare. There are times when the character changes feel a bit rushed and you need a few minutes for the former person to “leave the stage” before being introduced to the next one. That aside, her transmogrifications are undertaken with a skill that belies her youth.
The View is one of those rare theatre pieces that can be seen more than once. Rademeyer has succeeded in grappling tenderly with a ghastly issue, revealing the humanity behind the headlines and rhetoric. It will linger in your mind for days and Gabriel and Lombard’s performances will stay with you for weeks.
l Tickets are R70, or R50 for students. To book, call 082 410 6996.