SWIZE BANZI EST MORT
Athol Fugard, John Kani, Winston Ntshona
Ecole de la Trillade
Friday July 14, 11pm
If you believe that theater should make you laugh and stir your emotions, question your outlook on the world and introduce you to unforgettable characters, if you believe that theater is performing and partaking, this is a play for you.
One may be tempted to laud stage director Peter Brook at length, and to hail the two actors, Habib Dembélé and Pitcho Womba Konga as genuinely outstanding performers. The technique is supremely skillful indeed. Brook uses props sparingly but poignantly, for instance when an old shoe represents a dead man, and the musical choices are just superb, uplifting and jazzy, without ever falling into cheap exoticism, as is the risk when dealing with little known African works. The actors too master their craft with ease - the colossus-like Pitcho Womba Konga is heartbreaking as the naive Swize Banzi, while Habib Dembélé incarnates a dazzling range of characters, from the witty Styles to a little girl, an elderly patriarch, and many more.
But there's more to this show than a mere technical performance, impeccable as it may be.
The play is a collaborative effort by three South African authors in the 1970's and tells the story of Swize Banzi, an illiterate man who has left his family to come to the city and find some work; unfortunately, he is without the visa-like stamp that is required to work legally in town and when he finds a corpse on the street, one with the necessary and allusive visa, he faces a dilemma: to relinquish his name and work in the city or to stick to his identity and face a future of poverty.
Dilemmas of course are the stuff of drama, and with the issue of illegal immigration raging in Europe and the United States, this one echoes with forceful relevance. Regardless of the topicality of the theme, the emotional impact of the play is extraordinary. The helplessness of Swize Banzi, who is so tall and broad yet all but bashful, is deeply moving, while the antics of his many-faced partner just make you laugh and laugh; but of course, we should not forget the third character in the play, the unseen yet ever present white man, the whimsical and merciless oppressor.
The show tours the world in the months to come - see it.