Of hairy girls, guilt trips from mommy and how to get hitched

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SELFIE with the audience. Sonia Esgueira in Porralicious 4. Photograph courtesy twitter.com

MAKING THEM LAUGH at cultural idiosyncrasies of your own is a complex challenge that draws together bias, cringeworthiness and caricatures in a way that can never be precious. Ask Sonia Esguiera, who for the past eight years or so has been developing the Porralicious brand. This, its fourth iteration, reflects on the same soap opera-like family shenanigans as the previous versions, only now the family is older, a tad more manic and the granny makes ghoulish appearances from heaven.

Clocking in at about 20 minutes too long, it’s a work bright with local colour, reflecting on the behaviour and guilt trips, the relation to God, sex and properness of members of the South African Portuguese community, with all their fragile pride, their vegetables and their very 1980s-redolent local dialect. Even if you haven’t seen Porralicious 1, 2 or 3, you will quickly catch up with the wiles and dreams of Ruiz and Paula Ferreira and their parents Luisa and Jose, who are about to celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary. It’s a generally hilarious tale of broken dreams, over-the-top melodrama and a yearning for home, in Madeira.

Esgueira is a lovely and imminently watchable performer; she switches seamlessly between characters boldly describing everything from the dead granny to young and older men, as she goes. And she leaves no description untrammelled: from what your vagina feels like after child birth to fellatio at the school dance, and interaction with church rituals and politics, comes under her often very funny and incisive scrutiny. Curiously, it is the men in her repertoire that are more successfully sketched than the women, who tend to be very shrieky and too similar to each other; often their words become part of the casualty causing you to lose the funnies because you can’t recognise what she’s saying.

You may watch this work and think of Irene Stephanou’s groundbreaking Meze Mira and Make Up, which in the 1990s opened the door for this kind of narrative which slices open the belly of prejudice, self-identity, cynicism and tribalism of the Greek community. But the flavour of this kind of shtick reaches all the way back to the self-deprecating humour of Yiddish theatre out of the pen of Sholem Aleichem, which portrayed a community with all its brokenness and pathos with a grin.

Porralicious is an interesting theatrical product which has in a way branded who Esgueira is, and in a sense, this is a double-edged sword for the actress and the industry. Clearly, she’s a performer with great skill and versatility. She handles the work with consummate ability, and digresses, in this work, unfortunately in a spot of audience participation which feels a tad too forceful. Ultimately, you leave the theatre with your yen for the story generally quenched, but a wish that you could see her stretch in a broader diversity of formal performance directions.

  • Porralicious 4 is written and performed by Sonia Esguiera and directed by Heinrich Reisenhofer, at the Studio Theatre, Montecasino complex, Fourways, until June 24. Call 011 511-1988.

Farewell to ‘Peach’, SA’s Khoisan Barbie

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FIERCE, feisty and with a full heart: Bronwyn van Graan.

“I’M ABOUT LIVING, loving and sharing,” South African actor Bronwyn van Graan described herself on her facebook page. A performer who was relentless in plumbing the depths to find work in the South African theatre industry, and to do so with characteristic energy and always a smile on her face, van Graan passed away tragically and unexpectedly on March 31. She was 39 years old.

Van Graan worked in everything from wardrobe to industrial theatre, but shone her brightest on stage and from behind the radio microphone. Born in Cape Town on November 25 1978, she matriculated in 1995 at Athlone High School, and then trained in drama at the University of Cape Town, focusing on English, History and Performance. Equally at home in English and Afrikaans, she emerged on the South African stage in 2002. She could rollerskate and dance the Salsa, shimmy to jazz rhythms and above all make people smile – because she gave of herself with a full heart and with great generosity.

In 2007, van Graan won the Naledi Award for best supporting actress for her work in Shirley, Goodness and Mercy. Over the years, she was acknowledged with nominations by the South African Indian Film and Television Awards (SAIFTA) and KYKNET Fiesta. Appearing in a wide range of work from serious Afrikaans theatre to Jade Bowers’ searing direction of Scorched, Van Graan is probably best known and most widely celebrated for her radio work.

Associated with the SAfm soapie, Vuka Radio, directed by Bruce Millar, since 2012 – the soapie which last week was canned by SAfm management – van Graan performed in plays both serious and funny. A performer who worked under a vast range of directors, from film director Heinrich Reisenhofer in 2001 to Mari Snyman, for Radio Sonder Grense in 2018, van Graan has been unanimously celebrated and fondly known as “Peach” and the original “Khoisan Barbie”. But just take a look at her photographs if you want to gain access to this beautiful young woman’s soul: there’s feistiness there as well as a great deal of empathy.

She touched so many lives in so many crucial ways, as the storm of tears on social media has attested to. She was hard-working and willing to take direction, tough and bold, gentle and funny. By all accounts, she was a delight to call ‘friend’ and injected a real sense of vibrancy into everything she touched. She had a beautiful heart, said one friend. “Do not follow where the path may lead,” she added to her facebook details. “Go instead where there is no path”.

She leaves a devastated industry, her parents, Felicia and Terry, an older brother, Clem and husband Raiko, as well as many many close cousins and a huge and loving extended family.

  • The funeral service for Bronwyn Van Graan (Peach) is on Saturday, April 7 at the Church of the Transfiguration in Durban Road, Bellville. Viewing will be from 9-9:30am and the service commences at 9.30am. The family has requested that you light a candle in memory of precious Peach if you are unable to attend the service.

     

  • A memorial service will be held for Bronwyn (Peach) van Graan, at the University of Johannesburg’s Con Cowan Theatre, (31 Bunting Rd, Cottesloe, Johannesburg) this Saturday 7 April 2018, starting 10:30 for 11:00am. This gathering will allow an opportunity for anyone who wishes, to share a few words to do so.

Rough diamonds and ‘Kullid’ identity

Sweet drunk: Kelly Eksteen embraces the stereotypes of Colouredness at full throttle. Photograph courtesy Leonie Ogle.
Sweet drunk: Kelly Eksteen embraces the stereotypes of Colouredness at full throttle. Photograph courtesy Leonie Ogle.

What does it mean to be Coloured in contemporary South Africa, backgrounded as it is by a context replete with all manner of insulting histories and stereotypes, which teeter between hilarity and deep tragedy, simultaneously? Young theatre practitioners Leonie Ogle and Kelly Eksteen have cast this curious and rich identity under their collective loupe, realising Kullid.

It’s a new work, segueing three historical and theatrical texts that tease the Coloured phenomenon apart, which are laced with a concoction of everything from beer to methylated spirits, and which offer the construction of Sofia (played by Kelly Eksteen), a character who carries the three tales with an engaging sense of exuberance, threading hilarity with tragedy in a way which often finds you laughing at the deep sadness – not because you’re inherently callous, but rather because of how the characteristic Coloured ethos is handled: as with Yiddish narrative where there’s a motif called a tragic story – a bittere gelegte – which is self-deprecating and wise, self-mocking and sad and hilarious, all at the same time.

Eksteen is a supple performer, who moves fabulously in sync with the lurid colours of Coloured slang. Her performance is slightly hurt, however, by her lack of nuance in her interpretation. All of her characters are handled full blast, and the casualty is sometimes the clarity of the language, and the narrative and context it describes.

The work’s unequivocal gem is an interpretation of a young Coloured child, central to the piece: Eksteen embodies the crispy innocence of this child with such developed and empathetic veracity, it is like watching magic unfold and time reverse before your eyes. The other two characters are handled with too much of a similar technique for them to be distinguished; ultimately, you are left with a generalised smearing over of Coloured idiosyncrasy rather than as devastating and crafted an approach as we see with the child.

Eksteen is the kind of performer you want to see stretch her interpretative acumen in surprising directions. She embraces the flaws and faults of her own people with a brilliant and authentic sense of alacrity and directness, and Kullid is a deliciously entertaining production which feels alas too brief. But in line with much of the pickings of the So So1o festival, so far this year, there’s been a tendency to focus on identity. It’s an obvious but not unengaging solution to the festival’s defining parameters, but hopefully next year, and as this festival grows to maturity, more metaphor and nuance will filter into its programme.

  • Kullid is written and directed by Leonie Ogle, based on texts by Oscar Peterson and Heinrich Reisenhofer (Suip), Lueen Conning (A Coloured People) and Rehane Abrahams (What the Water Gave Me). It is designed by Leonie Ogle and Kelly Eksteen and performed by Kelly Eksteen, as part of the 2015 So So1o Festival at the University of the Witwatersrand theatre complex.