Superficially accomplished

There is a scene in Mike van Graan’s latest play, which opened at the Liberty Life Theatre in Sandton on Freedom Day, that echoes one from his earlier Green Man Flashing.

In the latter, a woman who has been raped takes a bath in full view of men on the stage and in the audience. Maybe the intention was to show how humiliating the whole thing is for a woman, but for an ordinary red-blooded male with a couple of brain cells, it’s a voyeuristic form of rape in real time.

In Two to Tango, the play has scarcely begun and Bo Peterson whips off her clothes, down to black lingerie. She exits for a shower, all the while talking to her husband. Within the duration of about 10 lines of snappy dialogue she is back on stage in some more revealing, flesh-coloured lingerie.

It must be one of the fastest, non-ironic showers ever taken in what goes as a ‘realistic” comedy, but the disturbing thing about it is that both plays were directed by women. It almost goes without saying that there is no male nudity in either play.

So one wonders: Does the writer specify these details or leave it up to the directors to fill in as they see fit? Does he specify that when Peterson’s Lisa Doyle togs up for yoga, she wears a pair of tights that literally speak to you from Down Under. Whatever the case, the writer certainly does not disallow it.

This may seem like carping about a very small part of a very entertaining bit of theatre concerning a white, married couple in the new-ish South Africa, but it seems to imply a certain kind of audience.

That is, one that is liberal enough to accept nudity on stage without leering (both actresses in question have very good bodies, by the way), but paradoxically one that is expected not to ask any questions about the politics of the body, naked or otherwise.

It also echoes the rest of the play in that issues are touched upon –Van Graan is very much an issues writer and columnist — but taken no further.

For example, Lisa discovers condoms in her teenage daughter’s drawer. There is much amusing talk about said prophylactics, but the issue is not resolved — it is merely a prop to show how she and her husband Andrew Stark’s shotgun marriage is on a slippery slope, with intimations of adultery, et cetera.

Then there is the matter of Andrew. Played by a perfectly capable and charming Bruce Young, he is meant to be your average upper-middle class white South African male. His project manager is a racial hypocrite, likes watching rugby, obviously has a sensitive and/or vain side (wearing this year’s pink shirt), and, with their sex life gone to hell after 16 years of marriage, resorts to a blow-up doll.

It’s all very funny that ‘Lulu” gets stolen after a typical South African pastime — robbery — but would someone like Stark ordinarily resort to such a desperate measure? Possibly, but not likely. Would Lulu, for that matter, even be stolen?

Possibly, but not likely.

Is this a comedy, a satire or a caricature? All three, it seems. So Andrew isn’t a character or even a full stereotype, he is just a collection of clashing, authorial ideas.

As for Lisa, she is very similar to the one in Green Man Flashing. That is, a lefty career woman with links to Australia who, like the author, seems to lack any anger, passion, vision or kindness. Someone who finally — and accurately — describes herself as ‘anal”.

The point is, very few people can identify or sympathise with her self-centred neurosis, except perhaps a small, knowing, powerful and moneyed elite. And then, hovering in the wings, there is just the faintest odour of condescension towards her.

But make no mistake: the elderly, rich, white, liberal audience absolutely loved this superficially accomplished play, applauding at the end of most scenes. As for the majority of the people, regardless of race and the other usual suspects, they were out enjoying their Freedom Day elsewhere.

Two to Tango will run at the Liberty Theatre on the Square until May 20

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Neil Sonnekus
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