Style that still lets the bride shine...
THE MILK TRAIN DOESN’T STOP HERE ANYMORE
DIRECTOR: Fred Abrahamse
CAST: Jennifer Steyn, Marcel Meyer, Nicholas Dallas, Roelof Storm
VENUE: Arena, Artscape
UNTIL: October 20
Jennifer Steyn gives a fiercely committed performance in this highly stylised Tennessee Williams drama.
The play is a morbidly fascinating character study in which nothing much happens, but so much of great import is said nonetheless.
The play draws heavily on Japanese noh and kabuki theatre traditions – including two actors who act as stagehands and helpers as well as various characters, and a third male actor who is eventually also unveiled within this tradition as the witness to the main character’s reminiscence.
All objects – from pink sheets on a bed to trays of food – take on meaning and every movement on the part of every character is deliberate and purposeful.
All the characters in this play are obsessed with the concept of death, with each one representing various aspects of human self-delusion, but this is Sissy’s story.
She used to be a player in her day and is now as rich as Croesus’ widow, but not ready to let go of anything.
Her wealth has come to mean her life and she is not a nice person so it is hard to sympathise with the dying woman. But Steyn pours everything into creating this ill, grotesque old woman perched on the side of a hill overlooking the Mediterranean sea, dictating her memories over a loudspeaker for her secretary to capture.
She makes of Sissy Goforth a fascinating creature in her insistence that since she still lusts for life, she remains the great international beauty she was in her heyday.
Steyn carries the play with not only the bulk of the dialogue, but also her intense focus. You are both repelled and mesmerised as she transforms before your eyes from mad woman to object of ugly beauty.
This transformation suggests that in her transition to acceptance of her mortality she becomes beautiful again within the crucible of her suffering. Again, that idea is influenced by a Japanese aesthetic that something in the process of bud or decay suggests transience and the beauty lies in the signs of change rather than in an unyielding state of perfection.
The transformation is gradual – the two act play is two-and-a-half hours long – and helped along by various characters.
The principal witness and catalyst to this change is Chris Flanders (Meyer), a beatnik poet who has earned the nickname Angel of Death for his unfortunate habit of visiting old people to hold their hand as they die.
Goforth challenges Flanders’ sense of self, labelling him a freeloader, a guest who outstays his welcome, but he has a role to perform – to guide her towards the light – so his own growth or change must wait.
The two companion characters are Blackie the secretary (Storm) and the Witch of Capri (Dallas in a pair of killer heels and a hat to do Madame Zingara justice).
Blackie is not so quietly losing her own marbles because of the intransigence of her boss, but also quietly mourning her own dead husband, while the Witch comes to gloat over her friend’s dying so she doesn’t have to think about her own eventual end.
Inadvertently the main character’s bitchy remarks will draw laughter from the audience, which helps to leaven all the talk of death and dying, but mostly this is an emotionally layered piece of work filled with omens and references which are greatly explained by the excellent programme.
This is very much a case of form over function, but the tragic beauty of the play lies in that very detail.