BILLY SUTER reports that two interesting productions – one nominated for six Naledi Theatre Awards; the other a US import – are headed for Durban’s Playhouse in May as part of the arts body’s annual New Stages season.
AN ACCLAIMED stage drama that received six Naledi Theatre Award nominations last year, and which took a Naledi for director Khayelihle Dom Gumede, is headed for Durban’s Playhouse Loft from May 3 to 7 as part of the company’s annual New Stages season.
A drama based on the story of cultural icon Can Themba – a short-story writer who worked for Drum magazine, and died in 1968 – it is titled Crepuscule (which means “twilight”). Inspired by Themba’s own life, the story was adapted for the stage by director Gumede.
Crepuscule offers an interpretation of Themba’s real love affair with a white woman, Jean Hart, in the 1950s. Set in Sophiatown, it asks a range of pertinent and contemporary socio-political questions.
The play, which had good seasons at the Market Theatre and at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, tells of “the human connection and the search for freedom and humanity in a world that sought to deny it”, according to a press release.
It stars Nat Ramabulana as Can Themba, Kate Liquorish as his romantic partner, Lerato Mvelase as Baby/Kleinboy, Nhlanhla Mahlangu as Stan, Matthew Lotter as Malcolm and Thami Ngoma as Ous Lethabo/Mama Dora/Sis Pretty.
“Crepuscule is one of those works which tick all these boxes. What’s more, this is a work by a celebrated author and playwright. This year marks 50 years since Can Themba’s passing and having one of his works on our stage is an honour at this time,” says Playhouse Company chief executive officer and artistic director, Linda Bukhosini.
New Stages, she adds, is about celebrating authentic South African works that are entertaining, creative, original and thought-provoking
School performances of Crepuscule are set for 11am on May 3, 4 and 5. Tickets for pupils cost R30 each, and can be booked by calling (031) 369 9407.
Public performances are scheduled for 7.30pm on May 5, 2pm and 7.30pm on on May 6, and 2pm on May 7. Tickets for these performances (R80) are available at Computicket outlets.
Also lined up as part of the New Stages season is We Live Here, presented by the International Arts Foundation Inc of New Orleans in association with the Playhouse Company.
This work, by award-winning American playwright Harold Ellis Clark, marks an ongoing sister-city cultural exchange between New Orleans and Durban, which aims to serve as a bridge in communication and understanding between the two cities.
Described as a work of global relevance and immediacy, We Live Here tackles and seeks to redress issues of racial hatred, fear and intolerance. These topics continue to challenge inter-demographic relations between communities the world over – as the turbulent political landscapes of both South Africa and America continue to demonstrate.
“In spreading its message, We Live Here serves, with unswerving integrity, as an instrument of social cohesion that reaches beyond the confines of theatrical entertainment,” says producer Ernest D Kelly, president and chairman of IAF.
Durban audiences, however, need not brace themselves for a mere finger-wagging exercise, explains a press release.
The release refers to online reviewer Joseph Baker, who assured his readers in an assessment of the play’s triumphant run in Memphis, Tennessee in 2015.
Baker wrote: “I have mixed feelings about theatre offerings that are redolent with the earnestness of a classroom lesson… I never know whether such fare will yield a powerful theatre experience, or wag its righteous finger in a ‘you’d better learn from this social studies lecture’.
“The good news is that the former holds sway… Not only is Mr Ellis’ writing both perceptive and timely, the excellent performances ensure a thought-provoking, dynamic experience that is entertaining despite the seriousness of the proceedings.”
We Live Here tells of Calvin and Francine Chaisson, a married black couple from the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans, who move into a new home in an all-white suburban neighbourhood.
Two weeks later someone writes a racial slur on their property and Calvin catches the alleged perpetrator.
Noted civil rights activist, Reverend Thomas Todd, in response to the incident, pleads with Calvin to allow him to hold a major protest march through the neighbourhood – an activity Francine is vehemently against.
Her feelings and frank meeting with Richard Rodrigues, one of the alleged perpetrator’s relatives, force Calvin to consider Reverend Todd’s wish.
Another racial incident at his home that threatens the health of both Francine and their unborn child adds further fuel to the inflammatory situation….
Directed and designed by John Grimsley, We Live Here stars Kenneth Brown jnr as Calvin Chaisson. Constance Thompson plays his wife Francine, who is eight months pregnant.
Alfred Aubry appears as the charismatic African-American Rev H Thomas Todd. The role of Richard Rodrigue, a loud-talking 70-year-old with obvious health problems, is played by actor Matt Borel.
Sharon Smetherman appears as his wife Barbara. The couple’s teenage grandson Alex Rodrigue is portrayed by Oliver Grimsley. The role of Sal Giordano Sr, Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Deputy, is played by Kevin Hubble.
We Live Here is set for performances at 7.30pm on May 5, 2.30pm and 7.30pm on May 6, and 2pm on May 7.
Tickets cost R175 throughout, except for ‘Golden Circle’ tickets at R250 each, from row A to row E for the evening performances on May 5 and 6.
Booking is now open at Computicket outlets.