Potent class, family drama
SAM Shepherd wrote Curse of the
Starving Class 40 years ago but with its message of the death of the American dream and fragmentation of societal norms, it remains a universally powerful drama.
It’s on for a short season at The Fugard with a cast of impressive actors, making this contemporarily relevant production a must-see.
Hot off the heels of her successful run of another compelling drama,
Endgame, the award-winning Sylvaine Strike directs.
The play, which depicts Pulitzer prize-winning American playwright and actor Sam Shepard’s portrayal of a socially dysfunctional family, is one that Strike says she’s been burning to direct for a long time.
“The death of Shepard last year made me reflect on the importance of his work. My vision for the staging 40 years after he first penned it was to honour his story, and therefore keep it set in America, with the wild, large, desolate and universal characters he created.
“Their demands to succeed, to transcend, to become better, dream bigger, leave and re-invent themselves elsewhere, is just as much our reality.”
It’s set on an avocado and sheep farm in Southern California.
The Tate family patriarch is a drunken father, Weston (played by Neil McCarthy).
Ella is the burnt-out mother (Leila Henriques), and they have a rebellious adolescent daughter, Emma (Inge Crafford-Lazarus) and broken but idealistic son, Wesley (Roberto Pombo).
In what has become a futile search for freedom, security and ultimate meaning in their lives, the family members become victims of an almost pathological carelessness.
They seem to have nothing to lose, living with reckless abandon.
Putting it within a local context, Strike says, “It poses the question: Do we belong here?
“There always seems to be that strange myth that somewhere else there’s something better.
“And that somewhere better is actually right here.”
Curse of the Starving Class was the first of Shepard’s “family tragedies”. Says Strike, “It has a tremendous sense of humour, balancing darkly delicious comedy and biting satire.
“It’s bold, funny and unsettling… A portrayal of a dysfunctional family on the brink of financial despair, struggling for control of their rundown farm.”
Strike says that it also depicts patriarchy; and in our country this resonates, with the massive expectations held of men, juxtaposed with the notion of them being looked after and mothered.
“It heads right into the African culture struggle of manhood – being the provider and the provided.”
The outside world, in the form of a shadowy lawyer, Taylor; a nightclub owner, Ellis; and two wacky hit men (played by Rob van Vuuren, Anthony Coleman and Damon Berry) seeps into the family home. Weston as the head of the family, fails to protect his brood from these conmen and predators.
Based in Johannesburg, Strike is widely respected as one of our leading directors. At the Baxter she has directed Molière’s Tartuffe, This Miser, Tobacco and the Harmful Effects Thereof, The Travellers and Black and Blue, all to acclaim.
Curse of the Starving Class is on at The Baxter Flipside from October16 to 27 at 7.30pm, Monday to Saturday. There is an age restriction of 16 years (nudity and strong language). Booking is through Webtickets, online at www. webtickets.co.za, or Pick n Pay stores.
Neil McCarthy, Inge Crafford-Lazarus, Roberto Pombo and Leila Henriques in Sam Shepherd’s Curse of the Starving Class.