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.

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