COOKING WITH ELISA
PLAYWRIGHT: Lucia Laragione
DIRECTOR: Princess Zinzi Mhlongo
CAST: Patricia Boyer, Lurdes Laice
VENUE: Auto and General Theatre on the Square
DATES: Until August 2
IN A WORLD that seems to be lurching from one crisis to the next – a passenger plane is shot down, another takes off in the wake of a typhoon and crashes, suicide bombings kill hundreds of people in Nigeria and the Israel and Gaza conflict is spinning out of control – a play that deals with the never-ending cycle of violence is prophetic in its timing.
It’s the first cultural collaboration in Gauteng produced by Proyecto 34°S between South Africa and Argentina in a series titled Theatre in Translation as the two countries exchange plays of which this one is the local opener.
For producer Nikki Froneman it was the similarities between the two continents that appealed to her cultural instincts. Also, the fact that especially on stage, there’s still so little exchange.
Playwright Lucia Laragione selects her killing field carefully as she juxtaposes two women in a kitchen cooking for a demanding Monsieur and Madame.
Nicole (Boyer in flourishing form), is the one who wields power never without a sharp knife or a monstrous cleaver while Elisa (a subservient performance by Laice) desperately tries to field her requests as best she can.
But the older woman has staked her claim and runs circles around the young novice who is unclear about the battle that seems to be escalating.
It’s an uneven relationship. One has all the cooking skills at her command; the other is a naive country lass who is willing to please but is terrified of the consequences as she spills sauces and fears the living creatures she is ordered to sometimes harvest, before starting preparations for the delicate dish to follow.
At the centre of this macabre tale which dramatically starts with blood dripping from the ceiling is the flamboyantly fearsome Boyer as Nicole. She’s a woman who serves diligently with a fiery flourish that keeps the youngster (whose performance has grown since the Grahamstown run) terrified, as she tries to master the techniques expected from her.
Boyer is relentless in her ruthlessness as the threatened chef who is determined to undermine anyone entering her hallowed territory. She enhances this remarkable performance with masterful tone nuances that fluctuate throughout as she creates a wilful creature who knows exactly where she’s headed.
In the process she pursues anything and everything from a skilful rat to a mistress that doesn’t seem to understand the lay of this particular land.
It’s a stylised production that plays with metaphor as the two cooks “pluck, slice, skin, snap, carve, roast, boil and bleed all manner of country creatures” to produce the delicacies their masters demand. But because of specific directorial choices to seemingly hold back, the play – in spite of Boyer’s majestic performance – doesn’t have the horrific impact it should.
It could have been more menacing, more chilling, if the inherent Gothic element had been pushed further.
The pace is too punchy which means that the contrast between the delicate cooking and the horror of how this is achieved doesn’t quite play out as it should to exacerbate the terror in the minds of those watching.
The bloody aprons should almost be falling apart towards the end as the lives of the women and everything around them disintegrate. It’s there, but the progression isn’t amplified.
Instead, it becomes a Boyer tour de force, which makes it well worth seeing, but it could have been that and so much more.