Whenever I go to watch a theatre piece, the first question people ask once it is finished, is “How was it?” Usually I refrain from commenting immediately; I like to mull it over and extrapolate a more personal meaning.
Never has it been more difficult to deduct an interpretation than with Buite Land, showing at this year’s SU Woordfees. I walked out of the venue without words to describe what I had just witnessed, and more importantly, what did it actually mean?
It is not an understatement to say the play is convoluted with meaning. It touches on so many debates, philosophies and themes, such as: the dichotomy between Western medicine and traditional African healing, the place of religion versus science, the chauvinistic Afrikaans culture based on so-called Christian philosophies and the intricacies of dealing with homosexuality as an identity within particular paradigm.
Jacques (played by Jacques Bessenger) is a gay anaesthetist from Pietermaritzburg battling with his troubled past by casual hook-ups and drug abuse. Enter a young black man (Kopano Maroga) who arrives at his flat for casual sex, and who ends up giving him much more than just this once-off encounter.
Jacques is a troubled man to say the least. He is grappling with a past where religion and associated indoctrinations were drilled into him; to the point where he feels trapped in his hometown. He is filled with resentment and desperately wants to escape his reality. The problem is, it doesn’t matter where you go, you are still there. You can change location, but you and your problems will always be there.
It is no coincidence that he is an anaesthetist – just like his patients Jacques wants to forget the pain. His rationale is that if he escapes reality, it will be like it never existed. But at the end, the problems are still there; we can’t indefinitely escape them.
There is no doubt that Bessenger is a very talented actor. He consistently delivered a solid performance with perfect timing. The character demands a certain intensity that Bessenger presented brilliantly. However, one would have liked to see some character development. There’s little change in his persona, but that could also be an assertion of his current state. We do get glimpses of his troubled past and how he got to this point, but his internal struggles could have perhaps been portrayed more clearly.
Maroga delivered a stellar performance. He portrayed the character with a certain ease that added a layer of realism that is often difficult to achieve. He clearly belongs on stage, but he transcends the space to create a character that you feel could be sitting with you in your living room.
Buite Land portrays homosexuality in a way that we often see. There is, however, little pondering of sexual identity and the difficulty of being gay in Jacques’s particular space. His home life might be conservative, but as for his life, there is a certain ease with the subject. This allows us to move beyond the so-called “shock factor” into exploring more in-depth themes, such as promiscuity and drug abuse – two problems often associated with the LGBT community.
The set design and directing was done brilliantly. You almost can’t separate the two in this instance. Part operating theatre, part bedroom, part his mother’s house and part the spiritual space, the crossover between spaces and scenarios are seamless. The actors are immediately in character when it’s time to move onto the next scene. All the scenes flow into one another and décor facilitates these transitions.