YOU KNOW THE story from the moment you look at the publicity images for this play. A bride and groom stand next to one another. He wears a yarmulke. She’s Coloured. The rest feels like it will be a miasma of stereotypes and schlock that will draws gusts of sometimes deeply uncomfortable laughter of recognition from the belly of a community fraught with levels of bias and idiosyncrasy. It’s about tradition. And South African Jews. And Coloureds. And by implication, you think it will be peppered with the blandness of well trodden cliché, references to cultural cuisine and low key inside jokes. But in making all these assumptions, you don’t anticipate the feisty, fresh and searing energy that Chantal Stanfield, the performer and writer of this direct and autobiographical piece brings.
Yes, it’s a tale of marriage across local cultures and one in which a wide-eyed Stanfield is exposed to the bizarre and unexplainable litanies of ritual in the practice of traditional orthodox Jewry, when she meets, falls in love with, and marries muso RJ Benjamin. It’s written with a frisky sense of wonder, and while it niftily skirts issues from crude racism to the complexity of benign hypocrisy, it makes for tight and immensely watchable theatre.
Stanfield, a Sewende Laan actress who we saw in Johannesburg in Luigi Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author a couple of years ago, is one of those performers who you instantly fall in love with: she’s got a sense of presence that is easy on the eye and she fits comfortably in her own skin, rendering her first person narrative in this true story alternatively funny, deeply empathetic and critical almost to the point of cruelty, which heightens the hilarity stakes considerably and forces the whole business from becoming self-indulgent. The work is extremely polished, it’s exactly the right length and resonates with a slick inner rhythm that keeps you focused but never allows the piece to degenerate into the soft schlock that you may anticipate. It’s also a tightly pared down production, in design and set: all the frills and trimmings are described in a beautifully structured text, rich with nuance and wit.
From Koe’siestes to Kneidlach is a tale of uniqueness and curiosity blending the Malay doughnut with the East-European dumpling in such a way that it splays open the complex give and take between everything from Yiddish to Gayle, Muslim antipathies to kugel shallowness. It takes no prisoners in reflecting on the whims and idiosyncrasies of both sides of the wedding, and never stoops to being self-consciously romantic. It’s a love affair cast among the vagaries of Twitter, over protective mothering and culinary and other kinds of bias and is a joy from beginning to end.
- From Koe’siestes to Kneidlach is written by Chantal Stanfield and directed by Megan Furniss. Featuring music arranged by Paul Choritz, it is performed by Chantal Stanfield at the Auto and General Theatre on the Square in Sandton until March 18. Visit theatreonthesquare.co.za or call 011 883 8606