Despite a minimalist set with metal chairs doubling up as shopping trolleys, the supermarket setting in Two for the Price of One is brought to life by three actors chopping and changing from a range of typically South African shoppers. This new comedy, showing at Sandton’s Liberty Theatre on the Square, is a workshopped collaboration between directors James Cunningham and Helen Iskander and stars Charmaine Weir-Smith, Nick Boraine and Lerato Moloi.
The workshop-theatre form is by its very nature post-modern. It rejects the constraints of a rigid genre distinction, grand narratives and universal concepts in favour of slice-of-life personal stories. Fittingly, Two for the Price of One has an unassuming tone and the multiplicity of characters is entertaining without being too grandiose. Its comedic format allows the audience to relate to the characters and tap into the complicated philosophical construct that is post-modernism.
All three actors play their different characters with the necessary sensitivity, comedic timing and attention to detail. Moloi provides an element of parody, notably with her caricature of the supermarket check-out girl Tina, whose movements are almost puppet-like. Weir-Smith and Boraine play two archetypal characters: the uptight, bored housewife and the deadbeat dad, respectively.
Weir-Smith’s Claudette is reminiscent of the constrained housewives we’ve seen before in Kathy Bates’s character from Fried Green Tomatoes and the queen of dissatisfied housewives, Shirley Valentine. Like Valentine, Claudette wakes up every morning to go through the ritual of preparing the same dinner on a certain night, for example steak and egg on a Tuesday. Weir-Smith also lends the character a flavour of distinctly English-speaking South African suburbia through the use of phrases such as “cat nap” and “ta rah ta ree”.
Boraine, in particular, delivers a strong performance as Brian, who is fired from his job working at the supermarket’s cheese counter. He spends the duration of the play being messed around by his ex-wife and waiting in vain to see his son. It is great to see Boraine back on stage, particularly in improvised roles, after his recent string of big-budget film parts.
Overall, this play is a pleasant viewing experience. But it lacks the quirkiness we’ve come to expect from the Cunningham-Iskander directing duo, who brought us the delightful Baobabs Don’t Grow Here, Black and Blue and, more recently, De Wet’s Dream.
Understated, unconventional theatre-making is what they do well, but Two for the Price of One doesn’t quite get there, although there are two scenes that hint at eccentricity — Brian dresses up in a self-made dragon costume in anticipation of seeing his son and Claudette engages in a manic bout of watermelon-eating.
These scenes are visually appealing, but we could do with more of it throughout the play. Apparently, the play — as a work in progress — changes after each performance, so other audiences might very well see something different in this aspect.
The normality does work well at times. In one scene in the supermarket aisle, we see two trolley-pushing characters do a little dance around each other, in both the literal and metaphoric sense. They have cleverly choreographed the common occurrence of two trolleys both moving awkwardly out the way only to block one another again. This scene highlights the motions we go through in our everyday mundane lives. At one point, I almost expected the trolleys to collide.
Essentially, the scene ties into the idea of fragmentation and the decentred human subject that seems to be flavour of the month in arts. Recently, the critically acclaimed movie Crash dealt with this very theme. In one scene, Don Cheadle’s’ character explains his theory that car crashes are a result of people’s desperate attempts to make contact with their fellow human beings. The shopping-trolley scene is less dramatic, or profound for that matter, but in its simplicity it touches on a similar message, that of a disconnected post-modern society.
Two for the Price of One runs until 01 October 2005