Mother of all dinners

The haven of Jewish life is the Sabbath table — and as with all havens it is a place of refuge that can easily become a place of danger. The same could be said of family life in general, but while Jewish culture ritualises the mealtime in order to avoid distraction it is precisely the coming together of Jews around food that spells disaster.

The legendary Jewish novelist Joseph Roth wrote about the excuse Jews have made for overeating: “Food is not food,” he wrote in The Wandering Jews, “so much as thanks to the creator for the miracle of food.”

Sylvaine Strike’s perceptive play, The Table, has all the Chagall-esque components to make it a nice, whacky work of Jewish expressionism. There are plenty of warm embraces, a dreamy pace that references Chagall’s floating elders and lovers.
Food is sand and stones, dished up from a mighty tureen, as if the rewards of eating are also a punishment.

Back to basics, and the plot revolves around the revisitations of an old matriarch, played by Annabel Linder. She remembers the last days of her husband, Morris, now deceased for a year.

She looks forward to the coming tombstone unveiling. She steamrolls her children into performing poems and songs they intend to recite at the graveside. She remembers Poland and the struggle to survive the militias, and she remembers the strange route on which life veered under apartheid.

In this way, The Table is about two sets of remembering: for Jews it is the delicate balance between recalling being the victims of old and recalling being the privileged upper class, under apartheid, in the new society. (Of course there may be a third tier to come — when history forces an artistic look back at Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. But that will be the Jewish theatre of the future.)

The children are aptly played by an accomplished cast consisting of Brian Webber, Karen van der Laag and William Harding. These are stereotypical, grown Jewish children in their element — competitive, needy, loving and loopy.

And then there are the “others” who make up the household.

We’ve been spared, due to guilt one assumes, extensive exploration of the black domestic worker as an integral part of the white family. What happens in this household is extraordinary. In her director’s note, Strike uses a cruel twist of fate, involving a domestic worker and her master, as her motivation.

Given the work’s offbeat form, Jane Hampton Carpede and Khabonina Qubeka do a conventional job of a sane mother and daughter caught in the eccentric world of a hyperactive white family.

What may irk some is the overall message of the play, that even though the social structure of old-style South African homes may not change to the benefit of the women who serve, there is room for reconciliation.

The Table runs at the Laager Theatre in the Market Theatre complex until September 18

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Matthew Krouse
Guest Author

Related stories

The Portfolio: Nanna Venter

‘Artsronaut’ Nanna Venter lets us in on her process for designing book covers, including for Lauren Beukes’s ‘Afterland’

Napo Masheane sings a new song of freedom

Napo Masheane draws on the Women’s March of 1956 to add depth to her play about politics in present-day South Africa.

Blistering humour defines ‘Bad Jews’

Theatre director Greg Karvellas talks about the play that tells a story of remembrance and legacy.

A love affair with Can Themba

A young playwright tells how the Sophiatown-era writer provided the inspiration for a new play.

John Kani on his new play, ‘Missing’

Renowned actor and playwright John Kani talks to Brent Meersman about his new play, "Missing", now showing at the Baxter Theatre.

Curating Jo’burg’s FoodWineDesign Fair

From scouring Twitter to braaiing burgers, curator Roberta Coci speaks to the M&G about puting the pieces of this year's FoodWineDesign Fair together.

Subscribers only

SAA bailout raises more questions

As the government continues to grapple with the troubles facing the airline, it would do well to keep on eye on the impending Denel implosion

ANC’s rogue deployees revealed

Despite 6 300 ANC cadres working in government, the party’s integrity committee has done little to deal with its accused members

More top stories

It’s not a ‘second wave’: Covid resurges because safety measures...

A simple model shows how complacency in South Africa will cause the number of infections to go on an upward trend again

Unisa shortlists two candidates for the vice-chancellor job

The outgoing vice-chancellor’s term has been extended to April to allow for a smooth hand-over

How US foreign policy under Donald Trump has affected Africa

Lesotho has been used as a microcosm in this article to reflect how the foreign policy has affected Africa

Trouble brewing for Kenya’s coffee growers

Kenyan farmers say theft of their crop is endemic – and they suspect collusion

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday