It’s been a while since I last watched a straight dramatic play. There were moments of nostalgia that I reminisced in from my varsity days: where much of the spectacle is stripped away to reveal the actors in the space telling a story. I was excited before most of the action had even begun.
This new South African play, written by Eva Mazza and directed by Simona Mazza, begins with a single Jerry Mofokeng (who gets an applause before doing anything at all), wearing a birthday party hat. There is some fun, and quirky moments in the beginning that soon fade from the second a loud, harsh bang is heard at the door. Succinct into one hour, the narrative is about 3 children with SMA, spinal muscular atrophy, who were murdered by their mother, known as filicide. SMA is a genetic disease that affects the nerves responsible for muscle function and causes the muscle to deteriorate over time. Although looking after children with SMA is a full time job, many can live long, strong lives. In the play, the judge, who had previously worked the case, is confronted with the now abled bodied and articulate victims. They plead their side of the story where their choice to live was taken away from them, and propose what they could have become had they been given the choice. They need understanding from the judge in order to move on.
The story unfolds beautifully before the audience’s eyes, where Jerry’s character (the judge) reflects the audience’s own eyes into the story, as well an introspective look at oneself. They play urges you to interrogate your own thoughts and understandings on the matter of filicide, judgment, mental illness and disease, and live and death.
All 4 actors are on stage for the full duration of the piece, and work together to direct attention where it is needed. There are haunting moments of silence that leave space for analysis and reflection. The actors look comfortable in the space and their movements are seamless and well rehearsed. The children played by Lisa Derryn, Lea Vivier, and Francois Viljoen, steer most of the action of the play and transform into other characters. Their main role as the late siblings is outstanding, with strong performances and clear characteristics from the beginning. Mofokeng’s presence is powerful throughout and his role as ‘listener’ elevates his performance. The audience mumbles in agreement when Lea Vivier repeats her line “Forgiveness is for the living, acceptance is for the dead”. This line echoes through the entire play as its core.
Except for the last quarter of the play that felt slightly stagnant, the piece was gripping and pulled at my emotions. The staging was simple and practical. However, the painted bookshelf was unnecessary and awkwardly placed on stage. Personally, I felt the projected images were not needed and seemed like a last minute add on, to an already beautiful and polished play. The actors, sound effects and music score sufficed more than enough.
Acceptance brings about a new story that is universally placed and timeless. It is layered with so many questions without ever fully answering them, but leaving it up to the audience to decide, much like that of a judge.
Acceptance is showing at The Fringe Theatre, Joburg Theatre complex until 16 October 2016. Book tickets at www.webtickets.co.za