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SCENE IT: Louise Bourgeois’ life of contradictions artfully explored

Barbara Loots


I walked into the opening night of why do moths fly like crazy f*@#ks in the night? at the Baxter’s Masambe Theatre without knowing anything about Louise Bourgeois, the artist whose life and work is explored in this new one-woman play by Sue Pam-Grant.

A quick google-search will see Bourgeois described as a French-American artist, though after seeing the play I wonder if she would have objected to such a label, rather wanting to be seen as a French artist surviving in (or perhaps even revolting against) America.

In the play, the character of Bourgeois declares that Feminists may hate her, but she clearly has a strong feminist voice throughout. The contradiction in character appears to be a manifestation of the elements she explored through her artwork. She is said to have explained her artistic style as a way to ‘express much deeper things in three dimensions’. The play embraces this approach by exploring the sadness and fiery yearning of her personality through a three-dimensional perspective of her life: bringing her affinity for installation art into a theatrical space.

As was the case with Bourgeois’ life, this intimate and emotional play is a search for truth in the space where contradictions collide.  

The exploration of Bourgeois’ resistance to and need for a male presence throughout her life is reflected in the spiral patterns of her art, which represents an abusive cycle on repeat. The further revelation of Bourgeois’ perception of death as abandonment is another interesting trait on display in this performance. For me the most conflicting revelation was that she acknowledged the destructive and distractive impact of her philandering father’s vile passion on her and her mother, yet placed the blame on his mistresses whose violent demise she vividly imagined during her childhood.

I was captivated by the journey throughout until the very moving moment where the character takes her life into full circle perspective, declaring that no one can take away her childhood (a statement influenced by the exploration of the impact of the men in her life, on her person and her art). After that, the last few minutes of the production felt to lose a bit of sincerity by going on an artistic tangent which served more to justify the title of the play than building on the character established to that point. I’ve never understood the need to work in the express verbalisation of a title into a play: art doesn’t need explanation; it simply needs to be experienced. That overstatement of the obvious seems to stand in contrast with the character of Bourgeois as explored. It seems more like a Structuralist device she as a self-declared Existentialist so fervently balked against throughout her life and art.  

The set is installation art in itself, and creates the red donned playground within which Pam-Grant invites the audience to view the reflection of Bourgeois’ drive for individualism… a theatrical existential expression of her Existentialist artistic personality. And the invitation is very literal; as you enter the theatre the audience is directly invited to explore the space.

If you like a lot of pace and punches you may find this play too slow to keep you engaged. It's a very cerebral, slow-burn play, and I would recommend it to someone who likes their theatre experiences on the more philosophical side.

why do moths fly like crazy f*@#ks in the night?, written,performed and designed by Pam-Grant under the direction of Fred Abrahamse, is onstage at the Baxter Theatre’s Masambe until 23 August 2023. Tickets are available online through Webtickets.


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