What’s a nice girl from the Cape Flats doing with a nice Jewish boy?
Unlikely as it sounds, it’s the subject of Chantal Stanfield’s From Koe’siestes to Kneidlach which opens at the Baxter just on time for the festive season on December 19.
And if anybody should know if the two can go together ask Chantal - she’s married to a guy from as diverse a background as possible as hers.
Her one-woman show has already played to hugely receptive audiences in Johannesburg, as Chantal takes her personal experiences and puts a witty, sharp spin on the ups-and-downs of her cross-cultural relationship, which despite of, and because of, endures.
And while there may be no holds barred in describing how a Cape Flats goyische (non-Jewish) girl gets along with a Yiddishe boytjie from Gauteng’s East Rand, this one-woman “kosher comedy” is all good clean fun.
When you get to join the Jewish tribe, it takes a lot of navigating to understand the ways of your new family and their traditions. Working out how to feel at ease on your first Shabbat (Friday night Sabbath meal) and understanding Yiddish, for example, is not only about learning a new language but understanding a whole new world that’s definitely not for the faint-hearted. Eating gehakte herring and gefilte fish, latkes and kitke, are all new culinary experiences; and dealing with the faribels, or grievances, of your family-to-be is for those made of the sternest of stuff.
Megan Furniss has got to be one of the most appropriate people to be able to dissect and direct this play.
She’s Jewish but married to a non-Jew; is completely outspoken and upfront in commenting on some aspects of her background she’s not in favour of; and, judging from her website (www.megan’shead.co.za) and what she says, she sounds like she’s a complete maverick when she talks about her worldview and also her attitude to Yiddishkeit.
A former Fleur du Cap winner (for Innovation in Theatre improvisation and theatre sports in 2009) she speaks breathlessly when I call as she’s rushing off to a meeting.
“I met Chantel before, when she auditioned for me for a previous production and we had a kind of work relationship. Then she approached me to work on this,” she says.
She adds: “We had an amazing time working on it for about two weeks and sort of invented it. Obviously, Chantal’s absorbed a lot about Jewish culture as she’s married to a Jewish guy. And, because of my own background, I have been able to bring my personal Jewish consciousness from a political point of view.”
She says in Johannesburg there were large crossover audiences. “Both feel their stories are being told and it will likely be the same in the Cape.”
In her blog she wrotes about the first night in Joburg: “ ...Last night we (Chantal Stanfield and I) had our first preview audience for From Koe’siestes to Kneidlach, and it was a test. A hard test because the preview audience, “friends of the theatre” at Auto & General Theatre on the Square are a tough crowd of mainly old, mainly been-around-the- block, mainly Jewish theatregoers, and we had no idea at all about how the show would go down.
“As the lights dimmed and the music started I realised that I was clutching my pen so tightly I had broken though the skin on my palm. Chantal came onto stage and started. It was like my body started leaking out the tension with every word she said and every reaction from the audience. By the time she reached what we think of as the turning point, there were those in the audience who wanted to clap. I found myself beaming. And then, at the end of the hour I found myself melting completely as many in the audience stood to give her a standing ovation... What a blissful, comforting, lovely relief.”
Furniss hails from Observatory Johannesburg, and went to a Jewish school (King David). Of her upbringing, she says, “it was a miserable time for me, it was a time of great political consciousness and I felt I was in a very alienating environment. I was rebellious and felt completely unsupported - and it has coloured how I continued to feel -only it’s gotten worse.”
Furniss wears many hats in the theatre world: she acts as a consultant; does industrial theatre; and also offers corporate workshops.
Last year, she performed in the Cape Town Fringe in The Finkelsteins are Coming to Dinner, written by Richard Kaplan, in which the characters of a portrait artist, Jewish mother and an exuberant young gay man are brought together in a piece about art, hangups, Jewish culture, sex, the naked body and how to put together the perfect Friday night dinner.
While playing the Jewish mom, she says it was an irony “but made complete sense” that her own mother died as she was acting out the role of a mother of a son who struggles to come to terms with his own matriarch’s demise.
While Furniss’ own feelings of being Jewish are on the fringe, she says her husband is far more tolerant than she is of the Jewish community which she finds “cliquey and relatively exclusive”.
“I am very outspoken about my pro-Palestinian sentiments and very vocal on my political persuasions. I have created a sort of self-inflicted exile from my background, although I must admit I do like some of the songs and some of the holidays.”
Of the upcoming play, she says: “I’m the perfect vehicle for Chantal giving voice to her own experience. Overall it’s an interesting, delightful and delicious story.
"It shows there can be affirmation and acceptance from both sides and also creates awareness for members of both communities. While it’s not all menorahs (candelabras) and jingles, it highlights the need to get rid of bigotry and racism.”
* Chantal Stanfield’s From Koe’siestes to Kneidlach comes to the Baxter Golden Arrow Studio, from December 19 to January 6, at 8.15pm nightly with a matinee on Saturday, December 23 at 4.30pm.
Music for the production is by Paul Choritz, with pre-show music compiled by RJ Benjamin; lighting design is by Megan Furniss and Alfred Rietmann.
* The Baxter’s New Year’s Eve bash will take place in the foyer after the performance on Sunday, December 31.
The show will start at 10pm on the night and the ticket price includes entrance to the party.
Ticket prices range from R100 to R140; and on New Year’s Eve, R250. Book through Computicket.