Winner of a Gold Ovation Award winner at this year’s National Arts Festival, Johnny Boskak is Feeling Funny is directed by Roslyn Wood-Morris and Craig Morris. It is written by Greig Coetzee as a spin-off from his White Men with Weapons! and features costume and set design by Craig Morris, lighting design by Barry Strydom, and original music by the late Syd Kitchen. It is performed by Craig Morris.
Where does Johnny Boskak fit in the new South Africa? Is he a white trash dinosaur? Or is he the last cowboy hero in boots and blue jeans? What we know is that he’s on the road, looking for love, redemption, an AK47 and the quickest way out of Secunda …
“A spectacular one man-show that tells of the experiences of a displaced white man in South Africa, who is on the run with his lover. Crude sexual humour juxtaposed with biblical allusions attempt to articulate the disillusionment of living in a post-apartheid society. Be prepared to experience the underbelly of the ‘new’ South Africa.” – Tinika Nuen, Cue 2015
“This is phenomenal theatre” – Mike Loewe, The Critter
“He’s a fireball, and director Roslyn Wood-Morris keeps him steady on that broken white line.” – Steve Kretzmann
“Johnny Boskak evokes the kind of seemingly-effortless perfection you find in works such as Steven Berkoff’s Decadence.” – Robyn Sassen
REVIEW MIKE LOEWE
I die with a full heart
Who is Johnny Boskak? Do we know him?
Not really. Sort of… No-ja.
Who is Craig Morris?
We know him, this artist, here in the NGK Kerk saal, performing on a remote, disconnected Saturday afternoon, in Gatstad.
We know his work; we feel it, we hold it inside.
Now we gaze upon it, check it out.
Morris from orange, pitted, pulsating kaalkop in devil’s red. Rattling and writhing behind the wheel of a bellowing snorting rig on the road to Armageddon.
Or just tjuning, may bru, just skeeming, under the celestial canopy, lip curled, smacking his lighter, suiging on a Texan plain and exhaling.
Out there, up there, balancing on the road barrier of everything that is kak and insanely dangerous and incendiary.
I am feeling funny about this piece.
So in it, yet not in the uniform of emotions I am supposed to feel as a former conscript and End Conscription Campaign groupie.
I’m rather enjoying the road story, the technique. It grabs me by the seat of my ballas, it gruips my guts, druks my innards all the way to the kop.
It’s lonely out there hiking to hell with a balsak, I’ve been there.
And it’s oddly lonely and painful inside here, with the artist.
This is phenomenal theatre about the shit we have to go through in this South Africa,and the violence that begats the gats we have carried with such bewilderment and glittering revulsion.
I adored the settings for our brutality, our horrible heartless, heartbroken places, the bars, the parking lots, the dorps.
Hell is just around the corner.
Flip the coin. There is the love we crave, the soft fruit of Eve. Or Adam.
The lame lekker-like-a-cracker lines are actually poetry? Sumptious South African stuff, love lines that rise from our sun-and-booze ravaged cheeks to hold out song.
You gasp in wonderment. You recognise that there is in fact something profoundly poetic in the kak we talk.
Not always but it’s definitely here, in Greig Coetzee’s exquisite script.
It’s an umlungu’s story, but it reaches across battle lines into MK, to expose the violence in the system, in all of us. It calls us to connect. To come together.
And then the uitklaar, the fallout, the drop, the fucking fuck that of all fuck thats.
XX, Fontana, our culinary temples, smoking roast South African hoekoe (before those KFC imperialists invaded and occupied our minds).
Where the devil is a trucker who orders a burger with a side of bullets.
It is lonely out on the road, and you can die.
I die with a full heart.
REVIEW ROBYN SASSEN
The Importance of Johnny
Very occasionally there comes a play which confronts an era from the inside out, with both a sense of empathy and one of hard-edged objectivity, with as complete and yet vulnerable an understanding of how riddled with complexity a given issue can be. Even more occasionally, do you find that the text of the work is completely impeccable: authentic to what it reflects, entertaining and satisfying to hear, and able to splay and contain emotion with a sense of mastery. And hardly ever, do you find a performance that melds the beauty of a text with physical theatre, interpretative possession of the material and an unrelenting ability to hold you, in the audience so mesmerised from the word go, that you can barely breathe. This is what you can anticipate in the current season of Johnny Boskak is Feeling Funny, performed by Craig Morris, which closes this year’s So So1o festival with astonishing aplomb.
The work grew out of a cameo character in playwright Greig Coetzee’s White Men With Weapons, and arguably holds an even more dynamic sway over the complex material it handles. Touching everything from the horror that white young men were compelled to face in the South African army, which was mandatory for them under the apartheid regime, to Jesus – with a Capetonian accent – and a distinctly Coloured devil rapping in tandem, to love, and death and rhyme and mime and hatred and racism, Johnny Boskak evokes the kind of seemingly-effortless perfection you find in works such as Steven Berkoff’s Decadence. Bringing the unique culture which surrounded the South African apartheid army and seriously damaged so many white South Africans, the piece plays with unfashionable taboos in its exploration of white society, replete as it is with 1980s white slang.
The language fills the story it tells with an exuberance which never allows it to be too slick, but holds its grittiness with a sense of moral itchiness. You want to hold onto each magnificent turn of phrase and astonishing metaphor, but alas, they slip through your sensibilities and memory as others vie for your attention, and yet others after that. The language is so rich with local colour, viciousness and malignancy in its description of a world tainted by conflicting and complicated values, you want to eat it: it’s rich with its own wisdoms but it never becomes silly or self-indulgent and flows with a rapidity and a fineness that leaves you breathless: you can’t hold onto it, but are left the richer for having experienced it.
And it all could very easily have been written for Craig Morris who embraces it all with such provocative focus that he is hauntingly magnetic. Armed with just an army kitbag and a piece of the kind of traffic barrier that separates a highway from the landscape it severs, some brilliant lighting work and the 1980s sound of Syd Kitchen, Morris evokes a whole wide landscape, from Estcourt to Van Reenen’s pass en route to Durban, coloured with drugs, sex and violence, conflicting values and terror, reality and scary dream fantasies, all seamlessly conjoined in a breathless stretch of 70 precious minutes.
It’s a complicated tale which feels like Bob Dylan’s Masters of War meeting one of Bitterkomix’s more graphic stories. As the narrative unfolds, you feel as though you’ve been tossed into a cauldron of delicious evil and terrifying South African history, which blends the hateful illogic of Kafkaesque horror with the conundrums of Joseph Heller’s Catch-22.
In short, it’s a ten-out-of-ten production which is not only completely flawless, but serves as an important theatrical anthem to that troubling and messy era in South Africa’s history.
REVIEW STEVE KRETZMANN
Johnny sticks his thumb out
The road is a seductive idea. It offers freedom, novelty, escape. Problems are direct and physical. A flat wheel, a worn clutchplate, a storm. Constant movement creates an eternal sense of the present, and as the sages intone, being mindful of the present is a foundation for bliss.
It is no coincidence that the open road is an ever present metaphor in rock ‘n roll, a musical form premised on the desire for freedom.
Johnny Boskak is a rock ‘n roll play, and not just because it opens with a Bruce Springsteen track. The very name of the play references Koos Kombuis’s ultimate rock ‘n roll song, Johnny is nie dood nie, and Craig Morris channels roadsters from Jack Kerouac to James Phillips, with every white boy in between who stuck his thumb out on the highway until the ’90s became the ‘oughts. For some strange reason, hitching stopped being a default mode of travel for broke white okes in South Africa in the 21st Century, around the same time people started trying to catch a ride with a R20 bill rather than a thumb.
In what might be a uniquely South African irony, hitching, that ultimate symbol of freedom, was a state-sanctioned mode of travel for conscripts in the SADF. There were even lay-byes specially constructed for the okes in brown burdened with their bal sak, with signs and everything. Yet despite, or because of, the chances of being rapidly picked up by a patriotic boer, troepe swopped their browns for their denims as soon as the army base was out of sight, prefering a longer wait on the side of the road than having that hated uniform hanging off them for a moment longer than necessary.
This is where we find Johnny Boskak. On the side of the road, in his denims, with a bal sak. And what do you do when you’re stranded between Niemandsville and fokolnêrens with nothing with the crows and the roadkill for company except tell a story? Even if it’s to yourself. Or to us.
Of course being South African, Johnny is fucked up. He’s feeling funny. There’s frustration and suppressed rage that expresses itself through self destructive rebellion. We’re all angry, it’s a national character. Unfortunately the reasons for the anger differ if you’re white or black or coloured or Indian. White okes, though, have some debilitating guilt shit thrown into their peculiar mix, of course, along with a newly discovered irrelevance. Writer Greig Coetzee (this is sort of a follow-on to White Men with Weapons) is able to sidestep racial roadblocks, partly through toying with irony and self-deprecation, to enunciate white South African experience without – as is unfortunately sometimes the case – negating other lived realities or pushing them aside.
So Ja, Johnny’s a white oke, as you may have gathered. That’s not his fault though, and he’s on the road, seeking freedom from his demons.
But even Bruce Springsteen came to admit that the highway may be open, but it holds no answers, and Jack Kerouac was forced to return to his mother’s Catholic home.
The road is an illusion and there is no escape. Johnny, like all of us, has to face his devil, and the choices we make in that battle determine whether we go to hell or to paradise with our Eve. It sounds simple, but there’s a wild card: bad shit can happen to good people.
Sometimes, life doesn’t rhyme. And only if you go hear Johnny’s story, will you really understand that line.
I managed to check Johnny Boskak is feeling funny at the POPArt in Joey’s before he hit the road to Grahamstown to tjune you at the National Arts Festival. He’s a fireball, and director Roslyn Wood-Morris keeps him steady on that broken white line. So catch him there.