The 1924 American classic 'Desire Under the Elms' is heating up the Baxter Theatre stage until 26 July and we were lucky to experience Abrahamse & Meyer Productions' take on this previously controversial, but very relevant production.
Earlier productions of this Eugene O’Neill piece have not had such an easy road to the stage. The New York District Attorney tried to get the production closed on charges of obscenity, the play was banned in Boston, refused a license for production in England until 1940 and the cast of the 1925 Los Angeles production were arrested for performing in an obscene play.
Luckily for audiences (and theatre practitioners) using theatre to reflect reality is not so ‘rude’ anymore and writers and performers get the chance to bear it all – our fears, flaws, hopes and even flesh.
‘Desire Under the Elms’ is not new to the South African stage. 'Begeerte' (an Afrikaans translation) was performed in 1973 and featured Aletta Bezuidenhout, Carel Triechardt and Marcel van Heerden. The Afrikaans version played again in 2006 at the Baxter Theatre and starred Marius Weyers, Anna-Mart van der Merwe and Jan Ellis.
The production takes audiences back to South Africa circa 1890, when the world rushed down to the tip of Africa in search of gold. The desire to get rich fast has in some cases lead to men selling their land and this is exactly what gave Eben Cabot (played by Marcel Meyer) the opportunity to try and take control over a piece of Eastern Cape land, which he always believed belonged to his deceased mother.
But, Eben’s father (played by Robin Smith) and his father’s new bride (Mbali Bloom) have their own agendas and are ready to, stone-by-stone, make their mark on the barren land. We loved the dimension Abrahamse and Meyer’s choice to cast Bloom brought to this production. And boy does she know how to exude sex appeal! Maybe to some extent so much that she at times overshadows Meyer, who nevertheless gives the audience a good glimpse into a very perplexed soul… a man caught between child-to-mother and man-to-seductress inner conflict.
We realise that a more current setting might make it too difficult to stay as close as possible to the original text, but feel that audiences might find it a bit difficult to relate to than the 1890 setting.
This production may not sit easy with all audiences, it will definitely leave you contemplating the impact of what you experienced for days. So be brave, take a theare leap, and go see how you react to ‘Desire Under The Elms’.