Ladies who bounce back

ON blind dates and finding yourself: Serena Steinhauer is ‘Naomi’ in ‘The Undone’ at Theatre on the Square. Photograph by Philip Kuhn.

THE VETERAN BRITISH actress Miriam Margolyes describes the idea of doing a one-woman show as “lonely and frightening”, in her autobiography, This Much is True. When you see Serena Steinhauer emerge on stage in a flurry of words and wrap herself in the identity of three iconic women and many types of women, this idea of the fear and aloneness of what she doing, permeates the work. You can see her in her work The Undone, at Theatre on the Square until 8 July.

Boldly written in the first person, but teetering on the edge of overly wordy, the play is masterfully directed by Alan Swerdlow and features very pleasant music interjections composed by Bryan Schimmel, which blend Jewish music tropes, reaching from the Spanish roots during the time of the Inquisition to the brash vibes of a contemporary Sabra with a bit of klezmer tossed into their midst.

And in a sense, the work embraces Steinhauer’s youth more than it engages with the complexities of a Converso woman named Bina; Naomi, a young Israeli who wants love and finds politics; or Rachel Beer, the daughter of the Persian magnate Sassoon family who broke family ties to put her creative energy into the newspaper industry. It’s about plaiting kitka on a Friday afternoon with her mother’s maid ‘Gogo’ Tsholofelo as it is about her grandmother Ruth, a Holocaust survivor.  

The work, as Steinhauer explains in her programme notes, grew out of an essay which she wrote, and on some level, this element of earnest research is not subsumed by the characters themselves or the fact that this is a performed, not a read, work. Steinhauer’s presence on stage is competent and engaging – her face changes with the accents she adopts, but her presence doesn’t bend to the vibes of the three different women who dominate the script. She’s never deliciously lost in the energies of the 14th century or the 19th, for that matter.

Undone is a competent work which begs for editorial cuts and recalls in a sense, the informed work about Hedy Lamarr, which featured on this theatre’s stage in 2019. Resilience, says Steinhauer, is a choice. She cites women who bounced back behind the scenes, she pontificates on women who carried horrible histories and made beautiful futures. The work is deeply, almost cloisteringly, personal and clearly a labour of love on her part, but it’s a revealing attestation to her courage, more than anything else, in taking these ideas and passions onto a stage before that penetrable fourth wall.

The Undone is directed by Alan Swerdlow. Written and performed by Serena Steinhauer, it features creative input by Bryan Schimmel (original music) and is at Theatre on the Square in Sandton until 8 July. Call 011 883-8606.

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