THE FABRIC OF struggle credentials is very specific. It’s about the grit and fire of political values which come head to head with the powers that be. It’s about trend and the urgency of getting your voice heard and the ‘right’ texts read. It’s about having the intellectual wherewithal to acknowledge your place in the world. And it’s also about how time flows and what happens to the rhetoric in a post struggle framework. Allan Kolski Horwitz’s play Book Marks embraces these values with a tight edge and a vital sense of prescience, but also with a reflection of context that could be about the self-conscious edginess of the Johannesburg suburb of Yeoville in the 1980s or that of Melville in the 2000s.
Beautifully cast, the work presents four well-rounded characters replete with their flaws of braggadocio and vulnerability that’s enmeshed in an identity of political rhetoric, sexual identity and the desire to fit in. Vish Naidoo (Luversan Gerard), Stanton De Villiers (Craig Morris) and Mncedisi Julius Matanzima (Pule Hlatswayo) are old friends, struggle veterans, people who know one another well and who’ve been together through the grotesque period that saw apartheid defeated. They’re from different socio-cultural contexts, but are heir to similar values. If you were a humanities student at university during the 1980s, you know these people, you know how they smell and how they think. You know how they argue and how they live.
Cornelia Hendricks (Campbell Meas) is the daughter of one of their comrades. She’s of the next generation and speaks with boldness and confidence with a ‘born free’ set of values. She also untouchable and lovely and represents a power nexus that the three men struggle around.
And together, the four find themselves in a context bruised by loadshedding in the wake of Thabo Mbeki’s antiretroviral controversy and amid the mixed values spouted by Msholozi’s complex popularity. The house is Stanton’s and the focus is a book club, fuelled with wine, conversation and debate.
But not everything turns out as sedately as all that. To the tune of plays such as Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, the ‘party’ is pocked with unexpected dangerous potholes and everyone comes off a little battered by the experience. It’s a play about friendship and honesty as much as it is one of camaraderie and history.
To its credit, but also its detriment, it is a play very moored in the now. Which means, effectively that its contemporary audience will engage with all its issues, but a year or two down the line, much of the subtleties and the splaying of political interstices will be lost on its audience. Competently written, the work is about ten minutes too long, features some ghastly and unconvincing stage blood, and would benefit with more blatantly developed lines of narrative, which would give it the longevity it warrants.
Each performer embraces his or her character with a startling and compelling acumen. The work is structured to allow each to introduce him or herself in the first half of the work. As the piece unfolds, they become fleshed out and interact, revealing a tale that is as much about the personal as it is about the universal.
Kolski Horwitz is unrelenting in his commitment to theatre and in creating a season that causes many different platforms to collaborate with this work, hopefully he will engender a new trend, a new possible approach toward honing a season for a new work. See it here, see it there, but make a point of seeing it somewhere in the next few weeks.
- Book Marks is written and directed by Allan Kolski Horwitz and performed by Luversan Gerard, Pule Hlatswayo, Campbell Meas and Craig Morris. It performs at the Olive Tree Theatre in Alexandra until February 5; at the Red Roof Theatre at AFDA in Auckland Park on February 9 and 10; at the Plat4rm in Newtown on February 11 and 12, at Hillbrow Theatre on February 16-18 and at the Soweto Theatre on February 23-4. Visit https://www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=book%20marks