A touch too mad to leave you deliriousLesley Stones
Lesley Stones: Delirium sends up war, but may leave you in emotional no-man’s land.
Every time you head off for a night at the theatre, you hope for an evening of searing delight or emotional awakening.
Yet the last few shows I’ve seen have left me feeling discontentedly ambivalent.
They’ve all had some features worth admiring, and some aspects that weaken them, leaving the audience emotionally muddled in the unsettling no-man’s land between outright like and outright dislike.
Delirium made its world premiere at the Market Theatre this week, and it’s a perfect example of a play that’s partly good and partly bad.
It’s written by Ariel Dorfman, a Chilean-America human rights activist, to highlight the destructive and indefensible nature of wars provoked by ethnic differences.
It’s set in a ramshackle house that is abruptly split in two when peace is declared and a new border drawn between two warring countries. Atom Roma (David Dennis) is shoved to one side and his wife Levana Julak (Fiona Ramsay) thrust into the other when a border guard strides in to mark a new territory through the marital bed.
The plot blends comedy, tragedy and farce, heightened by the ridiculous situation of a border dividing the couple and a guard post erected behind the bed. There must be no cross-border copulation, they are told.
Ramsay is gloriously dishevelled as the feisty wife whose duty is to account for and bury the dead until their families can come to claim the bodies. Dennis is admirable in the role of the baffled husband, a little cowed by his fiery wife and his spirit fractured by 20 years of war.
But it’s Fezile Mpela as the guard who seems most at home in his role, stomping with bluster then fighting off a yearning to be wanted when the dotty couple mistake him for their long departed son.
The plot unfolds mostly in English but Dorfman has also incorporated a made-up language into the dialogue. It’s an interesting but largely pointless tactic, since we already know from their accents, garb and mannerisms that these are people of foreign lands.
Smoke trickling out of a stove filled the theatre with an unpleasant fugginess, and again needlessly, because there’s no benefit of a fire smouldering in the corner.
The stage set by Denis Hutchinson is deliberately cluttered to impede easy movement, allowing the characters to emphasise the stupidity of having to clamber over the bed or chairs to reach the toilet. Hutchinson’s lighting coupled with Mark Malherbe’s sound effects also do an excellent job of unleashing a war beyond the walls.
Dorfman’s script attacks the senselessness and stupidity of wars fought over religion, ethnicity, land or colour. He also highlights that while there is no money for the citizens, there will be money for landmines, border posts, barbed wire and bulldozers to demolish houses that stand in the way of man-made divisions. Too often, however, the anti-war message is bombed out by the madcap clutter around it, even though director Greg Homann tries never to let the madness get too annoyingly manic.
Ultimately Delirium left me unsatisfied, as this farce about a serious subject surrenders to the daft rather than emerging as a deft and funny conqueror.
Delirium runs at The Market Theatre until September 20. Buy four tickets at R200 and get two more free – call Anthony 011 832 1641. It plays the Hilton Arts Festival in KwaZulu-Natal on September 22 and 23.
Lesley Stones is a former Brit who is now proudly South African.
She started her career by reviewing rock bands for a national UK music paper, then worked for various newspapers before spending four fun-filled years in Cairo, where she ended up editing a technology magazine.
Lesley was the Information Technology Editor for Business Day for 12 years before quitting to go freelance, specialising in travel & leisure writing and being opinionated about life in general. Her absolute passions are travel, theatre, the cinema, wining and dining.
Web site: http://www.lesleystones.co.za
Witness Hilton Arts Festival
Dates: Thursday, 18th September 2014 - Sunday, 21st September 2014
Market Theatre Complex, Newtown Johannesburg Gauteng South Africa