"Revenge is a dish best served cold". This truism is vividly illustrated in Louis Viljoen's latest masterpiece of ghoulish theatre, THE GRASS WIDOW. Not only is revenge the mainspring of the action; the icy detachment with which its progress is recounted would chill a blast furnace.
Usually a grass widow is a woman whose partner is temporarily absent, but other, more sinister connotations of "grass" (defeat of a foe or betrayal) sound an ominous note in the play's title.
Tenderness, warmth and compassion are conspicuous by their absence. This is about carnal, imperious lust, nothing more. Inevitably relationships have to navigate choppy waters, and they seldom end well when sexual gratification is no longer enough to salvage them. Particularly when one of the participants is as ruthless as the anonymous narrator/protagonist of this unnerving single-hander.
Viljoen, for all the signature elements of his theatre - shocking situations, crude language, graphic descriptions - is never shallow. His plots, characters, and dialogues are invariably thought-provoking, and THE GRASS WIDOW is no exception.
Here we have a female of voracious sexual appetite who is capable of taking the most drastic reprisals when objects of her desire hurt either her self-esteem (like the schoolmate who inspired her adolescent passion) or her person (like the lover who shared her life as an adult).
The question arises of culpability and justification incidental to her revenge, and reference early in the script to a pigeon run over by a motorist, a seemingly random incident unrelated to the main theme of the play, is in fact a deftly contrived metaphor for casual cruelty/lack of guilt or accountability. There is no superfluity in Viljoen's work... The narrator/protagonist of THE GRASS WIDOW has an unenviable role to sustain with no assistance from the usual supporting elements of set, costume, props or co-performer(s).
Emma Kotze takes it in her stride, despite a minor stumble or two on opening night. Unremarkable attire, a bare stage except for a divan, and no interaction with anyone: it could hardly be more unforgiving. Her persona, moreover, is not really likeable even in moments of rare vulnerability, as she is relentlessly vindictive, driven by the cold satisfaction of worsting her opponents (which is how she perceives the males in her life).
This absence of sentiment means that THE GRASS WIDOW appeals more to the mind than the heart, making this stygian drama paradoxically pure: emotions generally muddy the water when evaluating issues.
Warm and fuzzy this play is not; intriguing and intelligent it certainly is. Thanks to Viljoen's sharply witty script and well-considered direction, as well as Kotze's committed portrayal, it rates highly as worthwhile theatre.
THE GRASS WIDOW
Playwright and Director: Louis Viljoen
Cast: Emma Kotze
Production Design: Kieran McGregor
Venue: Masambe Theatre at the Baxter, until February 11th
Age restriction: 18