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The foibles that make us all human

It isn’t every day that you get to see a very ordinary and possibly downright sleazy tale being told in such an extraordinary manner that it will put a lilt in your step and a smile on your face, for the sheer flawlessness in the telling of it.

Bar Flies, now on stage at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, tells of unrequited love, sweaty spontaneous sex in a bar, the ridiculousness of the male species in his enactment of the mating game; more than all of that, it also tells of the endearingly foolish bravado and clumsiness that is a part of us all, and to which we can respond so directly.

It also isn’t every day that you see two men dancing a dance of violence over a girl to the beat of the Argentinian tango. Or that you see a couple waltzing tenuously around the horizontal struts of a humble bar stool. But then again, this is Craig Morris, who we saw turning car tyres into a whole world of magical realism in Blood Orange, last year.

What a sheer joy to see him in collaboration with Gerard Bester and Rayzelle Wood in this gem of off-the-wall comedy. He’s the barman. They’re the lovers, but he has his own story to tell, which pivots on theirs, sometimes rather hairily closely. His character knows when to take a back seat; indeed, he knows when he’s absolutely invisible to the customers in the bar, but he doesn’t miss a beat in attempting to woo the beautiful redhead, from the murkiness of his invisibility, as it were.

Like any anti-hero in this type of tale, he never does get the girl, but entertains us to the hilt in his madcap attempts, which sometimes verge on Mr Bean-like slapstick and at other times touch sheer poetry.

She enjoys an orgasmic relationship with the wine he pours her, a solo sequence that is elegant and wild without being crass or silly, and represents one of the most wittily constructed comments on wine tasting through dance that I have ever seen.

When the guy, Bester, a cowboy-like type with his moustache, cocksure swagger and sliminess, enters the scene, she’s already quite deep in her cups; a tentative coyness between the two of them that resounds to a visual give-and-take begins. It’s poetic but never predictable and good on the eye, but for the jarring and wildly funny bits of gymnastic humour that focus on the guy trying to show off for what might be his girl, but putting his leg in an irretrievably silly position, in error, and then demurely trying to play down the agony in the face of his macho image.

With choreography and set handled by Roslyn Wood-Morris, this work speaks of an honest and generous collaboration between all the creative professionals who make it happen. We’ve seen similar manifestations of this with Gerard Bester’s performance in Coupé and with the magnificent engaging simplicity of Morris’s collaboration with Athena Mazarakis in Attachments (1-6).

Bar Flies flits beyond the limits of Attachments; its focus never slips into the maudlin, even though the tale it tells is a tragicomic one speaking of post-relationship loneliness and embarrassing mornings after. Rather its edge is gently vitriolic; the cast and director are laughing alongside us at the foibles that make us all human.

This article was first published in Cue, the National Arts Festival newspaper

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Robyn Sassen
Robyn Sassen
A freelance arts writer since 1998, I fell in love with the theatre as a toddler, proved rubbish as a ballerina: my starring role was as Mrs Pussy in Noddy as a seven-year-old, and earned my stripes as an academic in Fine Arts and Art History, in subsequent years. I write for a range of online and print publications, including the Sunday Times, the Mail & Guardian and artslink.co.za and was formerly the arts editor of the SA Jewish Report, a weekly newspaper with which I was associated for 16 years. This blog promises you new stories every week, be they reviews, profiles, news stories or features.

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