The Erotic Adventures of Elizabeth Longstall (A Short Story)

3 Oct

Three weeks after the passing of his wife, Herman Longstall found a plain, black shoe-box marked “Bruno” among her possessions. A diagonal strip of masking tape stuck on the lid of the box and marked with a black pen bore the man’s name and was followed by a full-stop that read as an exclamation of finality and at the same time seemed to possess a lingering, misty memory. Herman recognized the handwriting as Bessie’s, the wife who he missed as one would miss a recently deceased life-long friend, instead of a romantic partner or a true love. He accepted this as a consequence of a carefully calibrated, yet warm and supportive marriage. They had become partners over the years; both dedicated to making their home a fruitful base from which to send their two children into the world. Herman and Bessie’s relationship consisted of mutual respect and an awareness of what it would take to make a marriage last as long as they intended to make it last. It was due to these intentions and the posthumous hold Bessie had over his heart that Herman chose to forget about the box and place it, along with the clothes and trinkets not given away as charity or to family, in the storage space in the ceiling above the guest bedroom.

Herman had not seen his children since the weekend of the funeral, but he spoke to them by phone on a regular basis and the children’s concern for their father gave way to comforting conversations and even episodes of irreverent laughter as his daughter shared secrets about her mother. She was lighthearted about Bessie’s fussy cooking habits and sincere about her occasional annoyance with Herman’s habit of backing down from arguments with his wife to promote peace during the children’s teenage years. His son would phone him to discuss recent sporting moments and complain about incidents at work. Herman would agree, console, advise and advocate as the situations called for it. In a few short weeks after finding the box, Herman had become accustomed to living life without Bessie. He did not forget about her, and he still felt the loss, but it became part of his life as a limp would to a cripple.

It was due to his curiosity about an illustrated edition of “Robin Hood”, that Herman found himself in the storage space considering opening the box marked “Bruno.” The book Bessie had since childhood lured Herman into the ceiling and had him wanting to find and leaf through it after watching a Robin Hood film on television late one night. There the box sat, on top of a stack of gardening magazines, lightly covered in dust, turned slightly askew as if to hide itself from onlookers. Herman gave the box a thought, then turned to the crates filled with books in the corner. He lifted a book out of one of the crates, but immediately his attention was drawn back to the black shoe-box. He stared at it from the corner of the room and readied himself to approach it as if the box might rebuke him for trying.

Herman squared himself to the box and walked the three steps towards it. He had forgotten the weight of the box and thought it better to extend two hands in order to pick it up. When he finally gripped it, he found it light enough to carry with one hand, but more comfortable to carry with both. He resisted shaking the box for fear of damaging something fragile that might lie within the cardboard confines. He attempted to guess the contents, but decided it would be better to do this downstairs, in the comfort of his kitchen, lest something awful came from this adventure.

Herman made a cup of coffee using coffeelets: chicory and coffee filled bags which made for an easy serving of one cup. He placed the cup on the kitchen table and sat down, refusing to look at the shoe-box on the middle of the table until he was ready to do so. He thought about “Bruno” and could not recall having met anyone by that name and became certain that he never heard Bessie mention the man. It suddenly struck him that she wouldn’t have mentioned Bruno if he was her lover. And upon thinking that, Herman realized that the box had to contain secrets that Bessie kept from him. An entirely different person could be revealed to have lived in the shell of his wife and he found himself thoroughly unprepared to acknowledge this as truth. Herman’s reaching hand stopped moving towards the box and remained suspended, hovering above the table a few centimeters from the box. He waited for the box to move towards him, to open its lid and for the black, shadowy secrets to slither out and greet him with a handshake.

The box had to contain proof of Bessie’s affair with Bruno. It had to contain memorabilia from their trysts: postcards from exotic locations, shells picked up during long walks on the beach, matchbooks from intimate restaurants and risqué little soapstone statuettes depicting sex acts. And, of course, letters. Letters from Bruno to Bessie. Long, handwritten, lovingly flowing descriptions of nights spent away from the world. Descriptions of dreams where escape from the dull responsibility of family and racked up obligations could be possible. Bruno would mention love as an abstract idea, but would never press the idea as far as to damage the fantasy.

Fantasies. They swapped fantasies. They discussed what they wanted to do. They teased each other with perverse possibilities. Other letters would reveal Bruno reminiscing about the fantasies that became true acts. He would remember Bessie whispering in his ear the things she always wanted from a sexual partner. The letters would describe how he felt when she licked her finger and ran it over her body, stopping between her legs and finding the wetness that he caused by merely looking at her. Bruno had magical eyes which could gaze into Bessie and trigger orgasms that reminded her of climaxes she had before she met Herman. One letter, from the middle period of their long affair, would tell of how thrilled Bruno was when Bessie asked him to trace his tongue from her collar bone, to her armpit, over her chest, down her stomach and suddenly being commanded to probe the forbidden (to Herman) darkness of her anus. Bruno remembered Bessie’s initial squeal of delight followed by a deep sigh of pleasure as his wormy tongue plunged into her and made a mockery of the functional love-making Bessie experienced with Herman. The letters would confirm Herman’s prowess and skill as lacking in passion and any semblance of experimentation.

The unopened black shoe-box stared at Herman, whose hand still floated near the lid. The box mocked his hesitation and dared him to peek inside and risk finding out what kind of a person his dead wife actually was. Herman suspected that Bessie kept her heart in this box instead of the empty space next to his heart where he thought she left it. He felt the emptiness grow as the cavity became more pronounced. The hollowness produced an echo that bounced from one side to the other and seemed to speed up as Herman’s wounded heart panicked with the realization that the neighboring void was expanding. The cold secret of Bessie’s box gripped onto Herman’s extended hand and multiplied itself as to grow over his arm and make its way to enveloping his entire form. Before the freezing pain defeated all the warmth of Herman’s body, he had one final thought: he had never hated Bessie as much as he did in that moment.

Herman Longstall’s body was found by his daughter two days later. She was initially traumatized, but soon found comfort in the thought that he could not live without his wife and his heart broke out of grief and loneliness. To her, this meant he had began making his way back to Bessie and the two old lovers would find each other in the next life. When Herman’s daughter and son packed up their father’s possessions, the box marked “Bruno” was still on the kitchen table, but neither the son nor the daughter considered opening it. It was just a box and soon it got packed away with all the other boxes in the storage space in the ceiling above the guest bedroom.

THE END

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Someone Wrote on the Wall… With Permission, Naturally (The Art of Jerking-Off a Corpse)

29 Aug

To begin with, I must confess to envy. I envy the reasonable success of my peers and even the continued successes of those who came before me. I cannot help but measure my progress against the theatre-makers around me. My envy does not necessarily stretch to the quality of work, but let’s face it, the admiration of the industry (and the cash, little as it is to the real world) is something that I cannot help but want. Who doesn’t like having their genitals stroked by the movers and shakers of one’s chosen profession (a term to be used very loosely, unless you’re the GM/CEO of a theatre – Malcolm “The Percolator” Purkey, Lara “What’s that on your” Foot, Daniel “Big Red” Galloway, or Pieter “Jesus do we hate you” Toerien.)

It was with this hidden envy that I attended the Gordon Institute of Performing and Creative Arts (GIPCA) Directors & Directing Conference, with the focus this time around being on playwrights and their role in the theatre industry. I will relieve your suspense about what was decided the role of the playwright should be: The playwright should be shot and buried in a field on the outskirts of SA Theatreville. That’s a bit overstated, so allow me to re-phrase. The idea of the sole author with a distinctive voice and a personal vision of the world (real and created) that doesn’t play into a state sanctioned social agenda was frowned upon the entire weekend. Socially uplifting, community orientated, multicultural, all inclusive, positive, life affirming, comforting, false theatre was decreed as the way forward.

There is, of course, nothing wrong with any of the elements I mentioned above (even false theatre can have its rewards), but if it’s the only theatre we are committed to, then we are making eunuchs of ourselves. As it turned out, the conference was there not to actually explore the role of the playwright (as author), but to come together and wallow in our own destruction by our own means and talk about our industry as one might talk about archaeology: in academic terms, with historical reverence and an admittance that all this “writer” shit belongs to another age.

As a writer I shudder and reach for the gin.

While I agree that various forms of theatre are what could make the industry great, to ignore the singular voice of the author is to ignore the possibility of truly original visions. The group-think that comes with workshop theatre and the allowance of every voice to have a part in the story, is on occasion a bore. It is choral work versus a single person singing. Both can be beautiful (or awful) but the true personality of the singer emerges clearer when heard on its own, as opposed to in a group. Both can be moving, both have value, but to eschew one in favour of the other is moronic and dangerous.

The theatre of Mandla Bothwe and Mark Fleishman’s work with Magnet Theatre are great examples of workshop theatre that works, as much as the present day plays of “King of sole authors” Athol Fugard is theatre that doesn’t work (because it’s boring as fuck). But the successes of workshop theatre is now being used as ammunition against the idea of someone sitting down and writing a good play (unhindered by social responsibility, political correctness, inclusion of different points of view) and having it produced and living a life on the stage as well as the page.

What worried me most about the conference (besides from me taking to the free wine like a cat to an injured bird) were the clear voices of some of my peers and the way they were admired for their views, but completely ignored when it came to discussing solutions to our dire-as-motherfuck situation. Writers Juliet Jenkin and Amy Jephta (two lady chicks who make up a lot of my envy) both gave presentations urging the industry to acknowledge and nurture the singular voice in theatre. They spoke with joy and weariness about the process of writing and the need for truth over wish-fulfillment. They were applauded, their names were dropped in other people’s presentations, and then they were shoved aside in order for us to hear more from the elders (not only in terms of age, but also in position) of this world and how their solutions are dependent on our of acceptance of their strangle-hold over the industry.

The conference ended with a discussion of what we’ve learned (that’s right, folks. Like a classroom) led by Malcolm “Sophiatown: We get it!” Purkey, which seemed more like a group eulogy (workshop theatre practitioners take note). The final message seemed to be, “Walk the line, play the game, keep your fucking mouth shut.” The last word of the symposium came from young playwright Joanna Evans. She asked what the future for someone like her would be. How could she survive in this industry and keep making work that is personal to her while not necessarily playing by the rules set forth by the bureaucrats who run the theatres and head up the National Arts Council and bring about storms of mediocrity from the highest (lowest) echelons of government and non-governmental institutions?

At that point two things happened: I added another person to my envy list, and more significantly, no one answered her.

No one could answer her.

Call the Poo-lice! Someone did a racial on my theatre face. (The Fleur Du Cap Boogie-Woogie)

26 Mar

As I sit down to write this, the 2012 Fleur Du Cap Theatre Awards have been over for a week, which makes me as behind the times as your average Fleur Du Cap judge (getting my shots in early. Booya!) In actual fact, the awards were over before any of the nominees were crowned “Worthy of Our Praise” by the esteemed panel of journalists, bureaucrats, high-school teachers and professional non-paying audience members, only no-one wanted to admit it. If one was to view the Fleur DUH Caps with the importance it deserves, then one would merely experience a brief smell of flatulence in the first quarter of the year, followed by frantic waves of the hand in front of the face to rid the atmosphere of methane-heavy arse breath. But never a community to let things go and attempt a progressive surge into the unknown future, the theatre-makers/attendants/participants/commentators (yo, that’s me) of Cape Town are still trying to oust the gaseous whiff left by the Fleur Du Caps by producing our own farts in retaliation. We are not merely farting in the wind; we are farting in a tiny, badly ventilated room in hopes of clearing the air.

The reasons for the multitude of bloated stomachs and their subsequent releases stem from the mundane (the nominees, the list of invited guests) to the… well, mundane (the winners, Lara Foot’s comments on why white people are shitty shit-ass shit mongers.) Allow me to address the latter, if only for the briefest of moments.

Lara “Athlete’s” Foot took the stage to accept the award for best new South African play, “Solomon and Marion”, otherwise known by its original title, “ Dame/Lady/Queen Janet Suzman and some black dude discovered by Lara Foot.” Ms Foot proceeded to give lip service to Distell, the sponsors of the event, pausing only to criticize them for allowing the Fleur Du Caps to be so, utterly, shamefully, disgustingly white. She wasn’t disgusted enough to refuse the award of course, which would’ve been a truly significant, possibly revolutionary move. It was tantamount to performing oral sex on someone, and stopping at various intervals to insult their genitals. “I won’t stop pleasuring you, but my God, do I hate your wang/hoo-ha.” This, like so many other race-related upchucks, caused a flurry of unfocused ravings from both sides of the isle. Some were standing up for Ms Foot, calling her fearless and progressive, while others were insulted and took her comments to be a direct attack on them as… a… liberal… theatre… community… dedicated… to the… democratic… zzzz… zzzz

Anyone with half a brain can see that Lara “My Left” Foot’s comments are not incorrect. The theatre industry, or the parts of the industry represented at the Fleur Du Caps, is too white. But that is what happens when an industry becomes institutionalized. Forward momentum and change are not welcome, because they threaten the old guard (not only in terms of age, but in terms of aged thinking.) What is annoying is that it has to be said by Lara Foot-and-Mouth, one of the most prolific manufacturers of broad, guilt-inducing, bullshit PC theatre. If it was said by anyone else, I believe the news that we’re one step away from re-casting “Woza Albert” with Jeremy Crutchley and Charlie Keegan (I couldn’t think of whiter people, I apologize), would’ve gone over smoother. So, at the risk of sucking the dick while gagging at the sight of it, Lara “Flat” Foot was right. May God strike me down.

I will now, for further comic effect, deconstruct the rest of the evening. I arrived, after hustling a ticket and a date, received a program and was utterly delighted by the first item on the running order. There, written in bold, stood the announcement: 18:00 – 18:30 Pongracz. No lead in, no long sentences, no explanation. Just straight-up-fuck-you Champagne, motherfuckers. That’s when I knew that at the very least, I could get hammer drunk and witness the fiasco that was about to unfold. After giving me half the chance to fill my fat little face with gallons of free champagne and as many snacks as my chubby, greedy hands could carry, I was cattle-driven into the auditorium of the Baxter Theatre (General Manager: Lara “fetishistic obsession with” Foot. Wait a minute…) and seated next to a delightful black couple (Jesus, how did they get in?) What followed was an hour and a half of mostly forgettable self-congratulatory, but furiously intensive masturbation. The overly designed set looked like a Bonnie Tyler music video, but minus the alcoholic, gloriously raspy voice of Bonnie Tyler, populated instead by the recovering-alcoholic, slowly decomposing corpse of the one, the only, Heather Mac (remember her?  Me neither) belting out folksy, ancient, amazingly irrelevant tunes in between the major awards.

A mixture of shock and nervous laughter met the acceptance speech of Saul Radomsky (or was that Mannie Manim? Oh wait, he’s the other old guy.) Never did the audience seem more white than when he dropped two f-bombs during his time on stage. “How rude!” “What gall!” “Snicker, snicker, snicker, he said fuck. Hahaha. Fuck fuck fuck fuck!” The main joke of the evening was regularly doled out by people who took the stage to accept awards for winners who were mysteriously absent. They all said the same goddamn thing: “Well, obviously I’m not so-and-so” and alternate versions of the comment. It didn’t work. Not once. And frankly, I think they should be shot. Well, maybe not shot, but at least smacked in the gums. Relief came in the form of Alan Committee, offering an irreverent alternative to the so-serious-it-makes-your-balls-ache ceremony. In short, he MC’d the fuck out of that show.

The rest of the ceremony went as predicted. The majority of the awards went to people undeserving of recognition, but thankfully there were a couple of welcome surprises when underdogs triumphed and newbies were recognized. This, of course, caused a considerable amount of hurumph-hurumphs. I asked a theatre stalwart/deity what he thought of the evening and he said, “It must be bad time for theatre if a small show like “Die Rebellie van Lafras Verwey” can win a few awards.” There you go. Would you like to know who’s to blame for the state of theatre in this country, dear reader? Dickhead theatre stalwarts/deities like that belligerent motherfucker.

The show closed with a song from Heather Mac and her unwashed band, titled “Eventually” and as soon as my ears met the droning, screeching chorus, I bolted out of my seat and headed for the free wine. That woman’s music really brings the boys to the bar. What followed was a prime example of why people like me shouldn’t be invited to upper-class shindigs like the Fleur du Caps, and should be discouraged to use the black-market to score tickets. (Are black-market tickets as unwelcome as black ticket holders? Could this be a topic for a future blog? How far can I stick my head up my own arse? Is that the same question?) My compadres and I drank and ate everything in sight. And after a good half-hour it was as if the awards never happened. It was just another party with my friends, and that’s the way we wanted to remember it.

And then the farting began…

Autocannibalism as a form of protest (It’s oh-so provincial)

16 Feb

‘Twas the season of awards, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse… And then a less-than-magnificent river of shit changed course and hit the theatre community, changing crisp new-year clothing into smeared rags that reeked equally of hubris and disappointment. The Naledi Awards (for theatre excellence in Gauteng, or some such bullshit) announced the nominees who performed and created above and beyond the call of duty. Yaysies! The hurumph-hurumphs in Cape Town began immediately. Several Facebook Fuck updates from Twitter Twats and their ilk indicated their dismissal of the Naledis as a celebration of over-produced, artless, non-progressive theatre shows. (Because Cape Town, dear reader, is the main hub for “important” theatre shows… be careful not to roll your eyes too much and cause them to veer out of control and fly out of your head and into someone’s steaming cup of Vida Mucho Americano.) A few people were enraged that not enough Cape Town-originated shows were nominated and claimed inequality because only the shows that could afford a run in Johannesburg were considered for an award. Yes, dickhead, that’s how it works.

How Cape Town hated the Naledis for a few days. How Cape Town unified and proclaimed their support for one another and the importance of their work. How we all loved one another. Jesus H. Christ, there is nothing better than a bad-guy to bring us together and make us forget that we are part of a crumbling, PC, class-based mediocrity-factory.

Then someone took a Fleur Du Crap on the chest and face of that unified community. The Fleur Du Cap Awards (The Cape Town equivalent of the Naledis, but more, y’know, Democratic Alliance-y) announced their 2011 nominees a couple of days after the Naledis “pissed in the mouths of real, hardworking actors” – a tidbit of bitterness I spied on someone’s Facebook wall. The nominations contained a few delightful surprises, but in general they adhered to expectations. As has become habit with the Fleur Du Caps, stars ruled the day (in South African terms. Let’s not get excited), broad appeal work was celebrated, personal work was ignored, and box-office generally seemed to indicate quality. I say this not out of spite or malice, I am merely stating the obvious.

The thing that inspires this author’s surprise is not the disappointment or resentment of the Fleur Du Caps, but the theatre world’s preternatural instinct to turn on itself. The arguments became not about the validity or importance of the awards, but about who didn’t rage enough about the awards; who raged too much; who celebrated (nominees were scorned for feeling flattered); and who refused to comment. Everyone seemed to pick a fight that week, and the Fleur Du Caps stopped being the issue. Grudges surfaced, old wounds opened up and people began to take sides where there were no sides to be had.

Very few of my peers celebrate the Fleur Du Caps. They, and indeed I, feel the awards have absolutely no place within our work. The awards do not hinder us, nor do they promote us. Once again, that is not criticism, just apathy. However, some people who are left out of the Fleur Du Cap (and Naledi) kingdom are enraged by the exclusion. So, every year those feelings fester, they are put on a slow boil and come early February, the steam is released. Unfortunately, as with most things in the theatre world, it’s so unfocused that it serves only to hurt colleagues and friends. It is unclear whether this habit of implosion exists due to a flaw in the cosmogony of the theatre community, or whether the fault lies within the continuing evolution of the art and its practice.

We should not abandon our anger, especially if it kicks up dust and causes new ideas to form and ancient practices to subside. The issue should be the work, not the civilian parades designed to stroke egos and validate what should already be dear to us. If a practitioner measures his/her value by what a panel of free-ticket hogging, network obsessed judges think, then the work is not good enough for an audience anyway. And that is who we serve: the audience. Not in cow-towing terms, or adhering to their whims and certainly not to impress Fluer Du Cappers or Naledi-ites. But in presenting, perhaps, something new, something unforeseen, something uncomfortable, something that an awards panel might not comprehend. Isn’t that what brings about progress?

If one is admired by everyone, it might lead one to think of one’s self as admirable. If one is hated by everyone, one will endeavor to inspire only hate. We give what we get, but that river of shit flows both ways.

Two Interviews: Juliet Jenkin & Diane Wilson

5 Oct

I recently conducted interviews with playwright Juliet Jenkin and actress Diane Wilson about the new play, “Mary and the Conqueror.” The interviews were intended for a new arts magazine that was supposed to be launched at the end of September. But seeing as I never heard back from the editor, about remuneration or the articles being published, I’ve posted it on this blog (yes, the one you’re reading right now, pal.) I hope you enjoy the now free-for-all-to-read interviews and please forgive the lack of bile… This was intended for mass (go with it) circulation.


An Interview With Juliet Jenkin

 

Juliet Jenkin is a Cape Town based playwright and actress and has proven to be one of the most prolific young playwrights in South Africa. Her plays in include “The Boy Who Fell From The Roof”, “The Night Doctor” and “Poisson”. Her new play, “Mary and the Conqueror”, concerns the life and work of Mary Renualt, an English writer who moved to South Africa in 1949 and made a name for herself by writing historical and fictional novels about Alexander the Great.

 

At the recent Gordon Institute of Performing and Creative Arts (GIPCA) Conference on Directors and Directing, an argument arose amongst the attendees and panelists that the theater industry is facing a writing crisis. It was put forward that not enough good local writing is being produced and that the industry suffers from a lack of decent writers. Do you agree?

JJ: Yes. No. Well, I agree that there are not many playwrights around. Playwriting in a traditional, literary sense. A sit-down-and-type-out-10 000-words sense. Considering the number of people who actually work in theatre, and the number of people who actually watch theatre, I think the number of decent writers is pretty decent. You know, someone will make that comment at the GIPCA thing, and all the directors in the country will be there saying, “Where are the good writers?” And then everyone in the audience will say fuck you, I’m a good writer! Where are the good actors? And the actors will all be at a KFC casting or something.

You recently told me that you’re considering taking a break from writing plays to keep yourself busy with other pursuits (like acting, one would presume.) Can I ask why you feel you need to take a break?

JJ: If you’re trying to tell your friend a story, and your friend won’t listen to what you’re saying, you should probably stop talking to your friend. For a while, anyway.

You’ve made a name for yourself as a writer and an actress and an all-round practitioner of theater. Is there one discipline in your arsenal that you prefer over the others or is there a balance between the things you do?

JJ: I don’t have a preference. I understand acting through writing, and writing through acting.

Your new play, Mary and the Conqueror, is directed by Roy Sargeant and you seem to have developed a productive professional and artistic relationship with him over the years. Can you speak about your relationship?

JJ: Roy produced and directed my first play The Boy Who Fell From The Roof in 2005. Since then, I’ve worked with him on several productions as a writer and actor. We’re very different people, but we have a weird sort of simpatico on a lot of levels. He’s been an unfailing supporter of my work, and for that I am eternally grateful.

Diane Wilson is acting in Mary and the Conqueror and she says this might be her swansong. Have you had discussions with her about your play and if so, what can you tell me about your relationship with her?

JJ: Really? I didn’t know this was her last play. Actresses are always saying that. Like I’m saying this is my last play. Well, I’m not, but maybe I should. I had a brief discussion with Di, I think. I sat in on a read- through of the play a while ago. And then we talked in a lift about her kids. I don’t know her very well, but I think she’s glorious. And she thinks the same about me. Obviously.

How did Mary and the Conqueror come to be?

JJ: I was commissioned to write the play by Roy Sargeant in 2009. He was a personal friend of Mary Renault and her partner, Julie Mullard. It’s the first time I’ve ever written a commissioned work, or a biographical play for that matter, and I had initial trepidations about it – I’m not a huge fan of biographies in any form. But I went ahead and researched her life as far as I could. I interviewed Roy Sargeant and Owen Murray – an ex-ballet dancer and friend of Mary and Julie’s. I read the only biography on Mary Renault and most of her novels. In her trilogy on the life of Alexander the Great, I found the angle I wanted to approach the play from. I decided that instead of focusing the work on a chronological life-narrative, I’d intersect her story with the story of her beloved Classical hero. So, the play became not only the story of two lives, but a symbolic or existential musing on stories themselves – how we create and recreate the stories of ourselves and our histories. In an introduction to one of her essays, Mary wrote “We go to the past, perhaps to find ourselves, perhaps to free ourselves.” Essentially that is what the play is exploring.

 

***

 

 An Interview with Diane Wilson

In Juliet Jenkin’s new play, “Mary and the Conqueror”, legendary stage actress Diane Wilson will portray Mary Renualt, the English born writer who moved to South Africa in 1949 and wrote seminal works on the life of Alexander the Great. The play explores her relationship with her partner, Julie Mullard and her fascination with the Macedonian emperor.  

You indicated to me recently that Mary and the Conqueror might be your swansong. Are you retiring after this production?

DW: Learning lines for a new production is becoming increasingly difficult. Once I have learnt them I can recall them more easily for repeat productions but that initial learning is such drudgery that I am beginning to question if it is worth the effort.

The little contact we’ve had has given me the impression that you have no time for the pretentiousness that the theater industry is so often accused of being swamped with. Am I right? Can you speak to that?

DW: I can honestly say that I don’t seem to be cast by pretentious people. I don’t know if the industry is swamped or not. I have seen a lot of productions that I have disliked for various reasons; usually for what I considered appalling casting. There are so many brilliant actors in Cape Town who are teaching to make a living. I have been told that Lara Foot has been quoted as saying there are no good actors in Cape Town. How would she know, because she never sees other people’s productions? The appalling casting I have seen, by the way, is usually with actors imported from elsewhere.

Some believe that the theater industry is in crisis and that good work is often strangled by complacency and a need to pander to the lowest common denominator. As someone who has, presumably, seen it all and done it all, do you find this to be true? Where is the industry headed and what can be done to improve it?

DW: Unfortunately theatre has always pandered to what the public wants. This is true all over the world except in subsidized theatre, which we don’t have any more. It was nice when we did have it and the cream of plays from London and New York were being produced here.

How did you get involved with Mary and the Conqueror?

DW: Roy Sargeant cast me as Mary Renault. I had suggested her as a theme for a play for the Dublin Gay Festival a few years ago. Roy then commissioned Juliet Jenkin to write the play.

You have a long-standing professional relationship with Roy Sargeant. Is there something specific that draws you to him as a director?

DW: We respect each other. He thinks I am a very good actor. I think he is a

very good director. He has a very open mind. I constantly question things as an actor. He is not bothered by this, in fact he enjoys it. He has a fine and educated mind. We have a similar sense of humour.

Can you talk about the rehearsal process for Mary and the Conqueror?

DW: I adore the rehearsal process. It is always interesting. This time round we have two young men (Armand Aucamp and Francis Chouler) who I think are marvelous. Hard working, very talented with a wonderful attitudes and great sense of humour. I have not worked with Adrienne Pearce before and I think she is perfect for the part of Julie Mullard, Mary Renault’s partner. The only problem is that we are rehearsing in the middle of an extremely noisy construction site which makes concentration difficult, but we are coping.

Is there something you still yearn for in your career? A specific role or the work of a writer you always wanted to be involved in?

DW: I don’t yearn for anything. At the age of 70, I am grateful to be alive and healthy and to have any work offered me at all.

“Mary and the Conqueror”

 

Directed by Roy Sargeant

 

Written by Juliet Jenkin

 

Starring:

Diane Wilson

Adrienne Pearce

Armand Aucamp

Francis Chouler

 

29 September – 15 October

Artscape Arena

The Wonderful Recruitment of Mrs. Whistlefarb (A Short Story)

27 Sep

Maggie Whistlefarb passed away due to complications relating to hip-surgery on May 27th of the year she was to celebrate her sixty-first birthday. Sometime after her death, she found herself walking through a thick fog that made her squint in hope of penetrating the grey color surrounding her. Maggie knew she was dead, but that fact seemed inconsequential to her, and she worried more about the anesthesiologist who gave her an incorrect dosage and caused her to aspirate into her oxygen mask and drown on her own vomit. He would feel horrible about his actions and attempt to alleviate his guilt by drinking too much and colliding with a station-wagon carrying a father of four who was being fellated by a rent boy. The anesthesiologist would survive, but the prostitute would die from head trauma and the father of four would succumb to his injuries two days later, having lost too much blood when the rent boy bit off his penis as a result of the sudden impact. The scandal would cause an unflattering light to shine on the dead father and his children, who would all suffer abandonment issues and battle substance abuse for the rest of their lives. The male whore was not mourned by anyone, except for the anesthesiologist, who would go on to resign from the hospital, move to the coast and drink himself silly until his liver gave out and his body remained undiscovered for two weeks.

Maggie had no idea how she knew this, but the need to investigate her ability to know all things, present and past, did not strike her. She merely moved through the fog and saw her entire life as if it was on a plate in front of her. Her husband, Dennis, was the manager of “Time 4 Bed”, a furniture store that also sold novelty clocks that were imported from Belarus. He was introduced to Maggie by her father, Michael Bensozia, when she was twenty-three and the two were married eight months later. Maggie knew she was the prize given to Dennis to buy the favor of his father, Lucas Whistlefarb, an industrialist who subsequently invested in Michael’s business (an import-export consortium specializing in the shipping of empty freight containers.) Maggie’s marriage to Dennis was a continuation of her relationship with her father, minus the obvious intimacies that come with married life. She served him well, as her mother had served her father, and as she served her father after her mother died from a heart attack in the middle of a farmer’s market. Maggie and Dennis never spoke in depth about anything; he never sought her council; they fought only about domestic issues; they stopped sleeping together after the birth of their daughter, Candice. Maggie hated the name, but Dennis and his family insisted on naming the child Candice, as they had an affinity for it. The Whistlefarbs had four other Candices in their ranks.

Candice Whistlefarb was raised as well as Maggie could raise her, but the child took after her father in ways that left Maggie out of influence’s reach. Candice treated Maggie as Dennis did: courteous, given to occasional false interest and hidden disdain. When Candice left home at nineteen, Maggie was relieved. When people asked her if she suffered from empty nest syndrome, she lied and told them she did. However, she wished her home was emptied of Dennis as well. She did not desire company, nor did she fear it. She merely ached to be alone, far from the noise of the world. Her life continued unabated as she continued to lie her way through social occasions and conversations with her husband. When her daughter got married, she felt happy only because she would no longer have to feign worry about Candice’s life. She’d met the groom only once before the wedding and he struck her as an unspectacular human who thought Chinese tattoos made him an individual and went on tirades about he, and only he, could revolutionize the advertising industry. Maggie was not surprised when he lost his job and went to work for a company that sold billboard ad-space near the airport. A few years later, he become a re-born Christian and divorced Candice and moved to small town in the mountains to become the reverend of his own church. He was murdered by an obsessed parishioner who believed the reverend was Christ arisen and who attempted to eat the body before the police, responding to a report of screaming and blaspheming coming from the rectory, pulled the mad believer off the loin-cloth dressed corpse.

Candice never re-married and she would move in with her father after Maggie’s death. The two would bicker constantly and be miserable at all hours of the day. Maggie felt neither woe nor pleasure at her husband and daughter’s predicament, and for the first time since she found herself in the fog, wondered why she no longer felt anything. It did not bother her, but it made her curious. She enjoyed feeling curious as she had never been curious about anything before, save for the obvious curiosities of adolescence. She had not been surprised by anything since the wondrous discovery of her own sexuality and those warm afternoons and cold evenings when her fingers would travel across the mounds and valleys of her body and cause her to tremble and marvel at her wet fingers dipping in and out of her and stroking her to orgasm. As she thought about herself then, Maggie realized she could still feel. She stopped walking through the fog and imagined pleasuring herself. She only had to think about the glorious feeling when she erupted in climactic ecstasy. It had been remarkably easy, and she gave credit to the surrounding fog and emptiness beyond.

With Maggie still in the throes of self-administered passion, it took her a few moments to realize a figure approaching out of the haze. The figure was that of a man, but not any type of man she had ever seen. He seemed to be made of the emptiness he emerged from. Maggie straightened up and waited for him to speak.

“I am Abraxas.”

“I’m Margaret. Please don’t call me Maggie. I’ve always hated it.”

Abraxas smiled and offered his hand for her to shake. She did.

“Where am I?” Margaret asked.

“You are where you want to be. It is important to realize that.”

“Can I be other places as well?”

“You can be wherever you want to be. It is important to acknowledge that.”

It was Margaret who held out her hand this time and told Abraxas that he should lead her to where she wants to be. He took her hand, interlaced his fingers with hers and guided her further and further into the fog. All that remained of Margaret was the previously rare sound of her giggling and the lingering aroma of her orgasm.

 ***

 It was three weeks after Margaret’s death that heaven realized its error and sent Samael into the fog to investigate. When Samael emerged from the fog and reached the gates of hell, he saw Abraxas sitting at the grand entrance peeling a mineola. The minor demon smiled up at the minor angel and the two greeted each other as old friends. Samael sat next to Abraxas and accepted half of the deceptive fruit.

“You already took her, did you not?” Samael asked with a sigh.

“I did.”

“Did you lie to her?”

“I didn’t have to.”

The two beings stood up and Abraxas pointed through the gates into the netherworld. Samael saw Margaret and what she had become.

“She’s vying to be Queen,” said Abraxas, “Doing pretty well in the polls, now that I think about it.”

Samael could see Margaret Whistlefarb was doing well and she had found a place among the upper echelon of demons and bringers of death. Abraxas informed him that she had gone back to her maiden name, Bensozia and everyone referred to her by that name. They sat down again and looked at each other with affection. They shared a laugh, toasted their friendship with the fruit and said their goodbyes. As Samael was leaving, he turned to Abraxas and said, “Some you win, some you lose.”

THE END

The Saigon Five (A Short Story)

30 Aug

When Ingrid Ballflower celebrated her forty-third birthday in her usual fashion, dinner at “Saigon” accompanied by those who thought themselves to be close to her, she already knew about her husband’s philandering. If interrogated about the evening, Ingrid’s guests would say they knew something was behind her green eyes the entire duration of the dinner, but in truth they neither suspected her of harboring doubts about her marriage, nor did they anticipate the unique way she viewed the situation she found herself in.

Among the invited guests was Ingrid’s closest friend and colleague, Anna Sapstein, who carried herself in a manner akin to a grey hound suffering from hemorrhoids and occasionally shot looks of guilty desire towards Damian Ballflower, Ingrid’s husband. Ingrid had found out about Anna and Damian’s affair a week earlier when she happened across a series of e-mails on the Ballflower home computer. Damian had forgotten to log off of his “Gmail” account and when Ingrid opened the browser the first e-mail she saw had the subject line, “My holes ache for you.” Attached to the correspondence was a photo of Anna bent over faux-bamboo two-seater couch, spread legged with chipped fingernails resting on her perineum (to leave unobstructed the holes that ache, one would presume.) Ingrid said nothing of this to Damian or Anna, and instead dedicated the slow hours of her week to finding out more about her husband’s secret sexual indiscretions.

Damian had never been much of a lover. In fact it was Ingrid who suggested perverse adventures in the bedroom. Damian would occasionally be tipsy enough to follow her commands, but the alcohol would wear off and he’d end up spending himself with two grunts while engaging in a missionary position hump. She’d pat his back, wipe his drool from her collar bone and open her book in preparation of a late-night read. He’d sweat in the night, get up to pee once or twice and always, in the darkest hours of the early morning find her awake, reading books he neither understood nor wanted to understand. Theirs was not an unhappy marriage, but not much more than a facsimile of a happy one. In the week before Ingrid’s birthday party, Damian did not sense a change in his wife. He could not see her studying him as if he were brand new; not quite shiny or interesting, but the way one would investigate the motives and nature of a lizard perching on a branch, dead-still, seemingly without the concern for time passing. Damian also didn’t realize that Ingrid had, by some miracle act of private investigation, managed to track down the bevy of women he’d been seeking and receiving sexual congress from.

The first woman she found was an administrator for an amateur theatrical company. Her name was Frannie and she had the thinnest hair Ingrid had ever seen on a woman. The auburn color made it seem fuller at first look, but upon closer inspection one could see her scalp and the little fluffy tufts that endeavored to conceal the patches of naked, barrenness. Frannie tried to hide it by pulling her hair back in a tight bun, which gave her the look of a frightened child, which in essence she was. Not in terms of age, but in composure. When Ingrid introduced herself and explained who she was, Frannie didn’t cry but grinned with such terror that Ingrid would’ve preferred it if the tiny, slightly round woman had broken down in tears. They spoke about Damian and the length of the affair (two years) and they shared a laugh when the subject of Damian’s habit of complaining about the malfunctioning printers at his office had come up. Ingrid asked Frannie whether she knew Damian was married, and with a sheepish nod and a subdued whisper she admitted that she did, but found out only recently. Her loneliness had prevented her from objecting to seeing the only man who wanted to spend a significant amount of time with her. Ingrid and Frannie parted ways without agreeing on a course of action and it would later occur to Frannie how strange it was that Ingrid sought only information for the sake of knowing it.

The third and fourth of Damian’s lovers used to work with him and the affairs only started after they had left his employ. The two women, Alice and Shandra, knew about each other, but never saw Damian at the same time. Ingrid had to admit disappointment when she realized that she had not uncovered a salacious threesome and confessed this to Alice when the subject came up. Alice fessed up that she had suggested the idea to Damian, as she had doubled up with Shandra on men before, but Damian appeared uninterested. They spoke it about it only once it was never brought up again, Damian apparently being happy in the way he and Alice fucked, which by all accounts mirrored the way he and Ingrid bedded each other: moments of adventure and spice, but closed down as quickly as it had arisen. It was only with Shandra that Damian appeared to let himself explore the boundaries of his sexuality. Shandra told Ingrid that Damian requested every so often that she insult his manhood by shoving her thumb up his rear and call him names like “Faggot Boy” and “Mommy’s Little Bitch”. This made Ingrid giggle and when Shandra joined her, the two women ended up laughing hysterically for what seemed to be the whole afternoon.

The fifth and final woman on Ingrid’s list was a widow living a half-hour outside the city. She had no idea that Damian was married and began to cry when Ingrid told her who she was. When she’d calmed down and had a cup of sweet, milky tea Ingrid made for her, she informed Ingrid about the nature of her relationship with Damian. They made love, but only on special occasions like birthdays and promotions, but what they did most of the time was watch television and eat meals that Damian would prepare for them. Ingrid shared her surprise about Damian going anywhere near a kitchen with the widow and was even more surprised to learn that the widow considered Damian to be a great cook, if not quite a chef. Damian had never cooked for Ingrid, and the thought of him doing so for someone else caused her an unusual amount of pain. The widow swore she would never see Damian again, and Ingrid left her by saying she didn’t care much either way. Ingrid had treated the widow with more cruelty than she did the other women, but she knew she did this only because it was easy to do so.

Ingrid had found and interrogated all of Damian’s lovers within a week and by the time she arrived, on Damian’s arm, at “Saigon” and greeted her friends with either a hug or a peck on the cheek, she felt at ease with the new knowledge about her husband, her marriage, her sexual proclivities, and her plan for the future. Upon first viewing there was nothing strange about either her arrival or her decision on where to sit and where to place her friends. She positioned herself far from Damian, but made sure that he and Anna were close enough to feel uncomfortable but apart enough as to not give the game away. She placed her family on the other side of the long table so as to not have to deal with them and she surrounded herself with the people she enjoyed the most. She seemed to pick a random place among the intimate group, but it is in this narrator’s opinion that she had a plan all along.

When the second bottle of wine arrived along with the sweet duck wrapped in thyme pancakes, Ingrid Ballflower placed her hand on my thigh and smiled at me over a raised glass of sauvignon-blanc. As the evening progressed and my hand found her exposed thighs, she parted her legs and allowed me to finger her under the table. Our affair didn’t last long and we never really spoke about it afterwards, but one moment we shared gave me an indication as to her motives. We were making love in the back of my blue-grey 2001 model Honda Civic and when Ingrid reached climax, she said with a shudder of pleasure, “One down, four to go.”

The End

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