The poignant Afrikaans play, Die 9de Maand, is proof that the topic of toxic masculinity can be effectively and impressively showcased within the realm of issue theatre without a sententious tone. It's currently onstage at the Baxter Theatre as part of the Best of Zabalaza 2019 showcase.
Die 9de Maand shrewdly deconstructs the dark side of male dominance as an abusive social problem. The catalyst for this is the trial of four friends, the Dixie Boys: Through flashbacks they tell a story of secrets and lies, abuse and betrayal, while simultaneously called to answer for their involvement in a current day trauma.
Die 9de Maand doesn’t try to be sanctimonious in its character development, which is one of the most powerful features of this production. It introduces the characters —all both victim and culprit— as flawed and unapologetically selfish in their need for survival. In taking that character-focussed approach, it reveals how secrets have a way of affecting lives, slowing gnawing away at good judgment and conscience, and providing the delusional justification for a divisive reality.
In giving due consideration to the individual and collective journeys of their inherently human characters, Zinedine Manus, Earl Kruger, Jay-D Sanderson, Yanick Sweers impress, entertain, and shock with their performances in this robust ensemble-driven play.
Their characters remind the audience that everyone has secrets and skeletons in the closet —what’s scandalous to one person personally may be but cookie-cutter to another, but it doesn’t take away from the feeling of shame each associates with their secrets. With this equaliser, Die 9de Maand prevents the audience from viewing the tale from complacent pedestals. This in turn allows the characters to play out a story filled with trauma all too real to the social evils of our time, without being overtly preachy about the moral to be found in the examination of the crime.
The play cleverly pulls together the narrative, with personal experiences and opposing perspectives artfully linked to a cycle of abuse (be that male-on-male or male-on-female), allowing the issues associated with toxic masculinity to shine through without it overshadowing the story or coming across as theatre-as-therapy.
Die 9de Maand does issue theatre right in that it doesn’t prescribe to the audience what they should take away from the play. It rather brilliantly focusses on the imagery, the delivery, and the use of space in presenting a production that refrains from overtly acting out the issue. It showcases the underlying depth and nuance of characters with dark humour and lewd language to make an uncomfortable topic subversively digestible and open to further contemplation.
It is refreshing to see Tyron Zoutman develop a strong voice and aesthetic as writer and director. Zoutman and the cast deserve great applause and praise for this thought-provoking and captivating production. You can see Die 9de Maand at the Baxter Theatre until 1 June 2019, with tickets available online through Webtickets.