Identity… missing in action

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to missing by Oscar O'Ryan 1 Oscar O'Ryan

MISSING…
DIRECTOR: Janice Honeyman
CAST: John Kani, Susan Danford, Buhle Ngaba, Apollo Ntshoko
VENUE: The Baxter Theatre
UNTIL: March 29
RATING: ***

 

JANICE Honeyman may be the director, but this is John Kani’s play. It is dedicated by Kani to his wife, which reminds you that behind every successful man is a determined woman, which the play does bring home.

While it plays out as a family drama, Missing… is set against a broad political palette which spans years and countries.

Kani plays Robert V Kalipa, a comrade in the struggle against apartheid who has been languish- ing in the snows of Sweden since Madiba was released from prison.

When his wife and daughter can no longer take the moping about not wanting to return to South Africa as a tourist, a decision is finally reached to travel home, following a visit by an old comrade.

Peter Tshabalala (Ntshoko) used to work with Kalipa, but has long since been deployed back to South Africa to work in government.

Why? becomes a common refrain as Kalipa tries to understand what is going on back home and his wife finally has to face the dreaded question: what happens one day when he finally goes home to Africa?

The issue of identity is fore- grounded right from the moment successful Swedish businesswoman Anna Ohlsen (Danford) comes home and vents her frustration about assuming a traditional Xhosa wife’s role when meeting “people from back home”.

It is an old argument the couple have about being their spouse’s plus one – an argument that has become more humour than harsh criticism – but daughter Ayanda (Ngaba) seems the most grounded until she gets to South Africa and does not have the “I am home” epiphany her father always assured her she would.

Is home a state of mind, a memory, the physical place you were born, or the place where your family is? By the end of the play Kalipa has made up his mind about what he considers to be important and about his answer to the question.

The broader political context of South African democracy at play, though, gives Missing… its meat and bones, with the action building up towards a confrontation between Kalipa and Tshabala.

Ntshoko gives just the right touch of arrogance, which comes across as so petty when Kalipa takes the more dignified, higher moral ground.

On opening night Eskom’s load shedding meant we didn’t get to see what Mannie Manim had in mind for the lighting design for the oh-so Ikea-inspired set, but Kani and Co took it in their stride – the lack of sound effects, music and lights forced the audience to confront the dialogue, and they responded well, to Kalipa especially.

Most of the time the audience’s vocal responses were more in agreement or cries of recognition.

The play could be edited– there were lines of dialogue that repeated what a previous character had said and this interrupted the flow.

Still, this is a fitting successor to Kani’s Nothing But the Truth, telling as it does the story of a South African exile, missing in action.

By the end of the run it will be a four-star play.

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