The Dying Screams of the Moon is one of the latest plays offered at The Market Theatre as part of their celebration of forty years in the theatre industry. “40 years of storytelling” is the slogan used by The Market Theatre to mark this milestone and tremendous achievement – and as part of the celebrations – The Market Theatre is staging plays that are either written or directed by well-known South African theatre practitioners.
Zakes Mda and John Kani teamed up for this one with Zakes taking pen to paper and John helming the ship as the director. This is their first collaboration and I was not disappointed. After knocking off in Pretoria on Thursday, I made my way down to the iconic Market Theatre in a state of elation and excitement; I had been doing a social media follow up and the play was well recommended. I was merely putting it to the test. I had initially invited some people with me; but the etiquette of Joburghers is questionable, so, they stood me up and I was a bit nervous to go watch the show alone. I haven’t been to a theatre alone in quite some time, and besides, it is in my opinion that theatre was not made for individual consumption. The theatre is an experience ought to be shared with close friends and family, well that is until they all decide to ditch you (you know who you are)
After purchasing my ticket and my wine (no surprise there), I sat down and started imagining what the show would be like. Call me neurotic, I do such things. My imagination was soaring as the show is not only directed and written by two of the best theatre practitioners, but it also stars two actresses who are well on their way to becoming legends of the South African stage and television industry, Masasa Lindiwe Mbangeni and Tinarie van Wyk Loots. When I had arrived the theatre was empty, I literally thought there were only 10 people watching the show but as I sat there living my best life trying to imagine the scenes on stage, the foyer came alive with voices of audience members making their way in, purchasing their tickets and drinking their wine. In true Market Theatre style, the bell rang to signal the opening of the doors to the theatre, to me it signaled the fulfillment of my wildest imaginations. “This is going to be a good night” I thought.
The Dying Screams of the Moon is about two women with a militant background who meet at a church; a place of solace, where they seek inner peace from their troubles of the past. Set in post-apartheid South Africa, it reveals the struggles for land ownership that are still relevant today. Most importantly, how the land and the women are connected. This play challenges the notion of a masculine militant South Africa, it offers the audience a different gaze to ‘the land issue’ and the role of women during the struggle years.
The first thing I noticed when I walked into the Laager Theatre was the set. On Centre stage was a backless church bench. Upstage was a counter dressed as a prayer shrine with candles, a chalice and some incense. Next to the counter on prompt side was a piano decorated to look like the grand organ of the church. Above all of this is a crucifix. The set has been designed by Karabo Logoabe, a National School of the Arts alumni. In all honesty, there was nothing that blew me away about it. Coming from a background of musicals I’ve seen much more illustrious sets. The comparison is of course unfair, and this is in no way to say she did a terrible job, oh no. The set was perfect for the piece, the design brought a sense of intimacy as the pungent smell of the incense covered the room. The play is set on a farm in the Free State and so the set lived up to any expectations you would have for a church on a plot in the Free State.
Ezbie Moilwa is the music director of the piece. Moilwa also features in the piece as the organ player, an old man who always minds his own business and has been with the church for many years. Regarding the music, Moilwa knew exactly how to complete the image presented to us on stage. In the beginning of the play he sits by the organ playing church hymns, rehearsing for that week’s Sunday service. The music took me straight back to church with some of the hymns I could recognise.
I was still drenched in nostalgia, and the effects of the wine, when Masasa walked on stage as Lady. She entered from prompt side and started walking around the stage analyzing every single detail of the church. After that she started asking the old man specific details about the church and how those details have changed in the years since she’s been gone. Lady is soon joined by a hostile Missy, played by Tinarie, who aims to find out who this Lady is and what she wants in her father’s church. The two ladies start talking, awkward at first, and soon they start realizing their similarities and all the hostility is thrown out the window, that is until the issue of the land is brought up.
The two actress’s portrayed their characters utterly convincingly. I’m not sure if they are actually friends but their chemistry was well played. The characters, Lady and Missy, are basically two sides of the same coin. Both the women have been in the army, granted it was on different sides (Lady having been a part of the MK and Missy the SANDF), and both the ladies share something Lady calls ‘isinyama‘. The biggest connection between the two is the patriarchy they each experienced at their respective army camps, the inequality from their male counterparts and the connection they each have to Moon Valley, the plot which the church is built on. The ladies connect differently to the plot; for Lady it is home and for Missy it is a symbol of renascence after her father bought the land and worked hard to turn it around from its barren state.
These complexities within the script and within the dynamic of the relationship between the two ladies played out well with timeous pauses, glances and staging. One could pick up that the meaning of the words “freedom”, “rainbow nation” and “land” are different for the two ladies but because of their shared experiences they were able to find a connection. The characters mannerisms were well executed, without a single moment of forgetfulness. Lady had a mannerism of always closing her cardigan and folding her arms, implying that she is a defensive character which Masasa played very well. Masasa brought a strength to her character that was just enough and not too overwhelming. Tinarie’s character was just as believable. Looking at her, I really saw an Afrikaans meesie whose mental construct is rooted in what her parents have taught her.
The staging of the piece was good. Kani was able to bring out the subtext of the play through his staging. My favorite moment occurred when there was a tension between the two characters. At this moment Kani staged the women on opposite ends of the bench, length wise. This was an accurate representation of what’s happening between them. From that what I picked up was that the two ladies, still standing their ground on opposite sides of the bench, would never see eye-to-eye unless one of them compromises and takes a step forward. I thought to myself “isn’t this the current political situation in South Africa”?
The play is a product of Zakes Mda’s works and it is no surprise that the piece is pregnant with politics. Many of the issues raised in the piece are still social ills that are prevalent in today’s society. The biggest of them all being the issue of ‘The Land’.
Missy: Why don’t you People just forget ?
Lady: How come the Jews aren’t told to forget the Holocaust? Then why are we told to forget?
Lady: Healing and redemption can only come once the transgressions of the past have been acknowledged.
As you can see, the lines above go to show that we are still having such conversations today. That’s why these lines stuck with me.
At the moment South Africa is highly politically charged as a result of the current municipal elections. This play could not have come at a better time. With many of the issues that have been brought up in the play still being relevant today I was overwhelmed with the question “Where are we going”. Is this not what elections are about? Defining where we, as a country, want this country to go. It’s by going out and voting that we are able to stop the transgressions of the past from repeating itself. There’s a line where Lady says:
Before we wipe the slate clean and start afresh, I want to see the evils that were carved on that slate then clean it in order not to repeat them.
That line, for me, is the way everyone should see things before we even try moving forward as a country. Acknowledge the transgressions – from every side. The play also carries a very strong feminist message. Mda does a great job of bringing out the strength in a woman just in his writings. This is especially important taking into consideration the fact that it is Woman’s Month here is South Africa.
The lighting, which was designed by Nomvula Molepo was also commendable. I had two moments where the lighting really created the scene. One of the moments was when we saw the moon reflect the patterns of the stain glass window on the ground. The other moment was at the end when the moon was projected on top of the cross. The costume for the piece was designed by Nthabiseng Makone. Makone did a great job, my favorite costume was the skirt worn by Lady. This is only because there was a point in the piece where Lady felt uncomfortable and and this was shown in how she traced the lines on her pleated skirt (again mannerisms).
The audience reacted pleasantly to the piece. From the onset it looked as though everyone was really enjoying the story and believing what they were seeing on stage. I noticed this in how we would all laugh together at the jokes, and somewhat funny moments on stage. When the scene was tense so was the audience. At such times it would get really quiet with just the actors talking on stage and the audience leaning in as though the tension was literally pulling them in.
If there is anything I would improve about the play would be Ezbie’s portrayal of the ‘old man’. I really don’t think he did a convincing job as an old man. I’d also improve the crucifix which hangs above the set. It was a bit disproportionate especially by the horizontal arms.
Overall, the play was well produced, with the elements of good writing, music and theatre blended in a satisfactory way. I encourage people who are interested in the South African postcolonial conversation, and those seeking an hours worth of quality entertainment, to watch the show. The show ends on the 21st of August. It can make for great viewing this woman’s month and a ticket only costs R95pp, with special prices for students and pensioners. If you do go and watch it, you need to come back to this post and leave a comment on what you thought about the play.
***remember to keep the sting burning