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Vermaak | Entertainment > Teater | Theatre > Resensies | Reviews

Pieter Dirk: Eish – Evita for President

Anton Krueger - 2007-02-26

Venue: Market Theatre
Dates: 13 February – 17 March 2007
Shows: Tuesdays – Saturdays
Time: 20h00
I recently saw a scratchy old video copy of One Man One Volt (an Evita show from 1992) and I must admit I was pretty shocked to see what a savage barometer it was of those tumultuous years of the interregnum. Much of the show would be taken in very bad taste by today's audiences, I'm sure, such as gags about dogs trained to hunt blacks, and a wit wolf scoffing the brains of a black baby. Last night's show was a lot softer than that rather brutal portrait of a psychotic national psyche.
Perhaps bad taste becomes more palatable when it concerns contemporary issues (what comedian, can, after all, get by without it?), or it could be that Uys has mellowed over the years? Uys still relentlessly pursues whole pastures of sacred cows (such as in his truly superb rendition of Mother Theresa in green Crocs running the switch-board in heaven), and yet there is something milder about the flavour of his cynicism. Although he still mercilessly ridicules the people in power, his tone seems warmer, less angry. 
It's a grand show, in a uniquely South African tradition. Uys starts off with some of his old-time favourites like Adrian Vlok and Pik Botha and works his way through a string of post-apartheid politicians, impersonating Zuma, Tshabalala-Misimang, Selebi, Pahad, Manuel, Asmal et al. Each of these caricatures is distinctly refined and I admired the performer's whole-hearted embrace of each figure, right down to the smallest movements of the joints in his fingers. But I think that where Uys really hits home is with his characterisation of ordinary people. The rich and powerful whom he presents are little more than sketches, but with his ordinary women – Mrs Patel, Mrs Petersen and the Jewish liberal whose name escapes me – he manages to create real characters. One of my favourite new additions must be Mrs Petersen, who runs a junk shop and introduces the first jokes about Muslims into Uys's repertoire, including a number on suicide bombers ("Yes, you get 27 virgins, but they're all Jewish Sandton Kugels").
The infectious laughter came thick and fast, but there were also occasionally deadly interjections which abruptly silenced the audience into awkward acknowledgement. For example, when Mrs Petersen mentions the discrimination against coloureds, who are now considered too white for affirmative action, she points out that the apartheid government made no such distinctions when it came to employment opportunities or education, and that the coloureds were also subjected to forced removals back in the day for being too black.
Perhaps Uys is at his most heartfelt when addressing issues of poverty, and it is here that one catches a glimpse of his compassionate and generous nature. This is the other side of this stand-up comedian – he is also a man who poured his time and money into a single-handed national Aids campaign; who currently helps to train cultural communities in Darling to support themselves; and who contributes regularly to The Big Issue, the magazine run by homeless people. Besides dispelling fears by speaking boldly about issues which many are too afraid to address, Uys is also a true humanitarian.
I was also reminded during the show of just how much South Africans have in common with one another. Granted, this was a theatre-going community, but still, here were people from many walks of life able to laugh at the same jokes. In the old video from '92 there are a few sheepish black faces in the crowd, but last night the audience at The Market was more black than white. Judging by the relentless laughter, the continuous applause, and the appreciative running commentary on every punch line coming from the row behind me, there was a true sense of community in the theatre which made me feel somehow connected, in some way South African.
This is, after all, one of the remarkable things which theatre is able to do, to momentarily create a sense of communitas. And in this community the audience is as important as the performer. Arthur Miller once wrote that theatre practitioners and theatre-goers form their own community outside of the categorisations of country and class, and that "the playwright is nothing without his audience. He is one of the audience who happens to know how to speak. We are a kind of church."
I felt that despite the bad news with which one is constantly being bombarded (for example, about the recent fumbling with Lotto money earmarked for last year's Pansa festival, which has still not been released, and Aubrey Sekhabe's expenditure of the State Theatre budget last year on Gumboots, which meant that the run of Hedda Gabbler had to be cancelled) – despite talk of mismanagement and financial irresponsibility, the main component of any theatre remains the audience, and last night an appreciative audience was out there in full force. Perhaps it is the audiences who hold the real power. Miller goes on to warn that "if the parishioners are no longer interested in that church, you know what happens. It becomes a garage or a grocery store" (1996:524).
At the end of the show, Uys invites members of the audience to say what they would change in the country if they could, encouraging them to take an active part in democracy, to practise making their voices heard. After having just had a proudly nationalistic moment sitting there as part of this splendid theatre community, I must admit that the responses eventually eked out of my fellow audience members now made me feel, after all, somewhat queasy about being South African: "I want more money," says the black guy; and "Shoot all the taxi drivers," says the white. "Come on!" I wanted to shout out from the back row, "What about more money for arts, less military spending?" But I turned out to be too shy for this bravado.
I thought that these answers revealed much to throw light on the perennial question of just what it is that's wrong with this country. People are forever accusing external factors like "government" or "crime" or "whites" or "blacks" or whatever. Everybody loves to blame these abstract outside forces for their own unhappiness; but these two answers spoke volumes about what's really at stake here at a gut level among ordinary people: an insular, selfish closed-minded egotistical thinking which can't see beyond the petty confines of the smallest circle of one's personal life and private comforts. I mean, how giving this one guy more money and clearing the taxis out of the way for the other is going to help improve the country God only knows. Surely what we need is more generosity, more compassion, more love, more understanding, more forgiveness, more open-heartedness, more kindness, more warmth. More people like Pieter-Dirk Uys. And, of course, more money for the arts.
Miller, Arthur. 1996. The Theater Essays of Arthur Miller. Edited with an introduction by Robert A Martin and Steven Centola. Da Capo Press: New York.