Woordfees: Curse of the Starving Class

March 4, 2018

In Sam Shepard se bekende stuk staan ’n armlastige gesin se stryd om oorlewing sentraal. Uitstekende stelontwerp en spel maak van hierdie produksie ’n sukses. Dit is tot 6 Maart 2018 by die Woordfees te sien. Geen o/16 weens taal en naaktheid.  


The dilapidated, linoleum-covered interior is our first hint that all is not well in the Tate household. The fact that the front door seems to have been reduced to shards of timber scattered over the floor is the second. After the dungaree-clad elder sibling urinates on his sister’s homework, no further hints are needed. Here is a family driven to the edge of despair, where each member is desperately trying to fight their way out to some more promising new horizon.


In this well-known play by Sam Shepard, directed by Silvaine Strike, all the action takes place in the kitchen of the Tate family home. (The set boasts a working stove that produces a number of meals throughout the performance —It’s not often South African audiences are allowed to see actual food being cooked on stage, and the team deserve praise for this addition. Even more crucial is the fridge, with which more than one character seems to have a strong bond.) The domestic setting is clearly not insignificant, as these people’s lives are steered and derailed by the decrepit property they share —in fact, the question of land and its power to shape fortunes is central to the play.

Neil McCarthy makes sure his Weston is much more than just a frightening drunk (though, it must be said, McCarthy’s drunken swagger is exquisite). His performance reveals a compelling flipside to the alcoholic-father trope as Weston muses to his son about the intergenerational poison that afflicts the family. Son Wesley (Roberto Pombo) is compelling throughout, as it becomes apparent that whatever plagues the father has already begun to fester in his offspring. The resulting mood swings are hard to watch, but exquisitely acted.


Ella (Leila Henriques) loves her daughter, Emma (Inge Crafford-Lazarus), but one can’t help but notice she loves herself just a little bit more. Henriques cuts a pitiable figure as her Ella dreams of better things, and Crafford-Lazarus practically bounces off the walls as her teenaged character tries to escape her domestic confines.


Decidedly villainous characters played by Anthony Coleman, Rob van Vuuren, and Damon Berry enter the already-fraught family sphere, and the tension is kicked up a notch. Coleman’s slippery property developer is the source of much hilarity, and Van Vuuren’s ’70s swagger becomes threatening impressively fast.


Audiences may at first find it hard to place the action geographically, as one or two of the accents point to the location being the American South. After some potentially confusing references to ‘fleeing to Mexico’ are also thrown in, it later becomes apparent that the Tates live in California. (Crafford-Lazarus, Pambo, and Coleman deliver very convincing accents that help to orientate the audience.)


At 120 minutes, this is a long sit for a festival production, but it’s well worth the effort, as Curse of the Starving Class digs into the marrow of a family’s internal and external struggles. The direction never flinches from the harsh facts of the central characters’ relationships with one another, or from the inherent direness of these characters’ circumstances, and this makes for a gripping spectacle. (There’s also a live lamb on stage for much of the show, in case anyone needed more encouragement.)


Curse of the Starving Class can be seen at the HB Thom Theatre as part of the US Woordfees on the 4th, 5th, and 6th of March. Tickets are available through Computicket or at the door. Please note that this production contains strong language and scenes that include nudity.

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