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Theatre

South African Theatre in Montreal: Molora

Posted by Stefan / January 26, 2009

Lady Macbeth, it turns out, is a pussycat. Whereas she summoned fury only to channel it through her middling husband, Clytemnestra made a corpse of Agamemnon with her tempestuous pick axe. Hamlet too is not the ruminating dilly-dallier you thought he was. He dragged his heels for days, maybe weeks. Orestes, on the other hand, waited seventeen years before emerging from his solitude to avenge his father’s death. And if South African director Yael Farber is to be believed, Shylock, for all his woe, is but a pretender to the throne of oppression; others have suffered before, and unless the cycle of violence is deliberately shattered, they will continue to do so without reprieve. Molora, her adaptation of the Ancient Greek Oresteia trilogy, imagines the possibility of that very occurrence. By juxtaposing antiquity’s bloody determinism against post-Apartheid South Africa’s remarkably reconciliatory emergence, Farber’s vision casts the significance of her country’s victory in its stark historical context.

Despite its overtly socio-political inspiration, the play (thankfully) does not fit comfortably in the activist-theatre genre. Rather than cataloguing injustice to provoke shallow outrage, it shows audiences the depth and complexity of true tragedy. Significantly, it does so without resorting to the melodramatic humanization. While there is no shortage of justifications and rationalizations, evil is not relativized: it is absolute and it is visceral. Clytemnestra, of course, strives for exculpation. With horrifying precision, she lists Agamemnon’s transgressions and thus seeks to diminish her own. Yet the reasonableness of her appeals only magnifies the callousness of her deeds. It is Orestes’s ostensibly unreasonable act of permitting Clytemnestra to live that is celebrated. If destiny and reason engender suffering and violence, the play suggests, history must be rewritten and mere reason overcome.

Engrossing and relentless, Molora does not tread lightly. Yet it is not heavy-handed, relying on symbols, rituals, sounds, and dance to convey its haunting tale. Without question, Farber's decision to incorporate the Nqoko Cultural Group as the chorus provides the play’s most powerful device. Described in the program as a national treasure, such guide-book objectification does not diminish their presence. The group weaves humbling beauty and reassurance into the play’s sustained trauma. For this reason, political undertones engage appropriately with the story, never emerging at the expense of the play’s powerful artistry. Timely allusions to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission effectively ground the narrative in the recent past, while recourse to the ancient myth provides a chilling reminder of the timelessness of machinistic violence. The story thus unfolds and flowers – it is not delivered like the day’s news.

Molora is not perfect. At various moments, the play's hypnotizing gravitas is punctuated by puzzling directorial decisions. The shattering bellow of a mother tortured by her family's bloody destiny is banalized by its repeated association with that monosyllabic caricature of pain, the sustained "no". As one audience member noted, "you know something is wrong when the actor yells 'noooooo!' and you ask yourself, 'again?'" Similarly, the snake-from-the-womb-at-the-breast-drawing-blood image, potentially one of the most powerful in the play, all but inspired guffaws as a rubber snake emerged from between Clytemnestra’s legs. Finally, the utterly distracting use of Shylock's "Hath not a Jew eyes?" speech from The Merchant of Venice risks undercutting the unique story being told. These moments, though noticeable, do little to diminish the play’s success.

Saturday night's performance was well attended, but short of the theatre’s capacity. Montrealers should not take this performance for granted. In particular, those under 30 should consider benefitting from the reduced fare ($15), as Molora offers a rare opportunity to witness traditional South African ritual and truly compelling theatre. Received with superlatives around the globe, this is not a fledging experiment with intertextuality. It is truly remarkable and accessible reflection on an unconscionably neglected moment in recent history. While perhaps polarizing in its inventiveness, Molora both reimagines a familiar tale and showcases modern tragedy.

Molora
Place des Arts, cinquieme salle
January 27 through February 1
$13.29 to $31.01

Discussion

16 Comments

Norma / February 4, 2015 at 07:36 am
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golu dolls / February 5, 2019 at 02:18 am
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kanchipuramsarees / February 5, 2019 at 02:18 am
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kanchipuram sarees / March 25, 2019 at 01:00 am
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kanchipuram sarees / March 25, 2019 at 01:00 am
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golu dolls / March 25, 2019 at 01:01 am
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