Seven haunting words to chill your heart

I TURNED AWAY AND SHE WAS GONE!

UNBEARABLE weight of loss: Jennie Reznek is Demeter. Photograph by Mark Wessels, courtesy of the Market Theatre.

THE HORROR OF the sudden loss of a loved one – whether they are taken by death, a kidnapper or an impenetrable illness that robs their existence of reason – is a harsh idea to confront, onstage or off. In I turned away and she was gone, Jennie Reznek searingly confronts your worst nightmare as she conflates classical Greek narrative within a contemporary setting that brings everything from white privilege to the indignity of assisted living under her loupe.

It’s a complex idea articulated with candidness and clarity that will take you by surprise. She engages directly with the audience and skitters lightly between being in the context of the theatre and being in a magical world replete with madness and possibility, with dreams of falling into volcanoes and baths of water as she embodies three generations of women – Hecate, Demeter and Kore (who becomes Persephone).

It’s a tiny slice of Greek narrative cast amid a sea of local and contemporary urban references in a language that dizzyingly writhes and soars with the crude unanswerable emptiness of loss. And it is oft breathtaking in how her language is crafted to reach into the interstices of the difficult relationship between a mother and her daughter. There’s love and resentment, neediness and anguish, jealousy and confusion, give and take which pepper the interplay of generations.

Comingled with extraordinary music by Neo Muyanga and overhead projections of text, the narrative sometimes becomes complicated to read, but mostly it’s difficult to watch Reznek perform through your own tears.

Armed with an extraordinary physical energy and presence, Reznek is not tall or large, but in her gestures and her humanity, she fills the whole theatre and echoes into your very soul. Her portrayal of a young child, a young mother, an older woman, a woman suffering the throes of dementia and a woman on her deathbed are articulated with a wrenching and bleak humour and wit that you can’t bring yourself to laugh at because it is so fiercely tender. And yet it has a resonance because it is articulated from within, from the underbelly of the kind of emotion the woman herself, the woman on her deathbed, the woman who has lost the word for ‘soap’ experiences.

Reznek has a very specific and elaborate physical language which conflates mime with emotional gestures and this sometimes evokes sign language and makes you feel as though you’re watching something cast in a grammar you don’t completely understand. But you roll with the structure of the material and the muscularity of the classical tale which holds it all together and prevents it from slipping into maudlin anecdote. It’s a beautiful piece of work which will burn you with its emotional fierceness if you allow it to.

  • I turned away and she was gone is written and performed by Jennie Reznek and directed by Mark Fleishman. It features design by Neo Muyanga (music), Craig Leo (set), Ina Wichtereich (choreography) and Sanjin Muftić (videography) and performs at the Mannie Manim Theatre, Market Theatre complex in Newtown until October 2. Call 011 832 16412 or visit markettheatre.co.za
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