Momentary laughter: Michael Gamliel and Roy Horovitz.

Volunteer Man
DIRECTOR: Roy Horovitz
CAST: Roy Horovitz, Michael Gamliel, Carol Brown
VENUE: Auto & General Theatre on the Square, Sandton
UNTIL: Saturday


American dramatist Dan Clancy’s Volunteer Man is a play heavily laden with issues, scarcely representing the kind of work a cross-section of South African audiences will necessarily or naturally place on their theatrical priority list.

It’s a pity, because apart from being a wide-spectrum human story, it especially touches on Aids, euthanasia and caring or, at times, the lack of it.

This three-hander is about Melvin, once a drug dealer on street level and now bedridden with Aids; Adam, the gay teacher and the volunteer man of the title who stretches himself to be a comfort to the traumatised Melvin and a nun who is so condemnatory that no Christian trait whatsoever can be found in either her bearing or deeds.

It is within this tightly knit web of basically cold and interpersonal relationships that Clancy introduces a nervy and edgy dynamic which has a chance to grow and develop – especially so between Melvin and Adam.

Initially there is a lot of angst, and it takes a heck of a long time before trust becomes part of their relationship and then only near to the end.

Razor-sharp dialogue is often delivered in a hectic tempo, with too little nuance in the diction. It makes it difficult to follow clearly and this becomes one of the major frustra-tions concerning this production.

This kind of garrulity becomes like a cascade of voices hindering the clarity of the extremely heated communication regarding the worthy arguments which are thrown around.

Roy Horovitz portrays Adam like a tightly coiled spring which at any moment can go haywire: at times interesting, even fascinating, but at the bottom of it somewhat strangely affected.

Redeeming this impression somewhat is the fact that Horowitz, who also directed this production, suggests that Adam, deep down, has a heart of gold.

Michael Gamliel’s Melvin is definitely unpredictable and explosive, but his most endearing quality is the way he can release his tensions by swearing and his bright-eyed thankfulness when Adam manages to smuggle in some pornography to digress his thoughts from his terminal condition.

Carol Brown’s Nurse is no doubt one of the most unsympathetic and disturbing characters we have seen on our stages for some time. However, she also stays solidly in character with an unnerving rigidity.

Nearer to the end of Volunteer Man the moral dilemmas which are even today still not really resolved regarding euthanasia (remember that this drama is set in the late 1980s) give a heightened urgency to a play where humour and irony are the dominant ingredients.

Is euthanasia a mercy killing, assisted suicide, a merciful release and why are both Americans and us still often so far removed from mainstream thinking?

Although Volunteer Man as a whole is not as achingly haunting as Clancy’s The Timekeepers which Daphne Kuhn brought us a couple of years ago, anyone will no doubt be partly enriched from experiencing this Obie Award-winning play.