Other People's Lives
Minimalism is stretched to the maximum in Other People's Lives, which launched the Artscape Spring Drama Season and is now playing at the Artscape Arena Theatre until 29 September.
Amy Jeptha's play states that other people we live with in the world have lives and that our lives are separate from them, and that we should be more neighbourly in fostering understanding and peaceful coexistence.
The play tells of a married couple, Meg (Lauren Steyn) and Larry (Carel Nel), who are living below Clare (Carla Fonseca) and Jane (Jayne Batzofin), as neighbours, with an occasional nod in the lift. But a violent incident in their apartment block ties their homes into a knot, turbulently linking them.
The play merely scratches the surface
In its present state, the play merely scratches the surface of issues of hate crime, interracial same-sex relationships, non-communication in marriage and cutting ourselves off from the world, and needs to be fully explored; it has the potential of being developed into a full play, when we can at least get to know something about characters we presently know nothing of.
Loaded with promise, there is a lot that needs to be explored dramatically; it is a play in which the drama mostly happens in the mind of the characters and the conversational dialogue and ritualistic action are captured images that reveal nothing.
It would be interesting to see what happens if Other People's Lives gets the opportunity to come of age. Perhaps that is the intention of the play, to allow its audience to fill in the gaps and piece the puzzle together. Devices of parallel time zones and flashbacks that criss-cross over into present action are clever but only support the contextual framework of the play, emphasised by a set design that tells its own story and is not needed.
Severe lack of dramatic content
Yes, there is drama in the action and performances, but the severe lack of dramatic content fails to hold the attention (even for the short duration of 60 minutes).
Perhaps the intentional understatement overstates the obvious and subtextual inflictions; it's what the audience reads in-between the lines, and the action that happens before, in-between and after that completes the story. The play is further hindered by performances that feel under-rehearsed, in which actors are trying to find their feet. Performances are not only about acting, but need to transport the audience into the world of the story, where we empathetically believe and understand the joy, sadness, drama and tragedy that shape the lives of the characters and result in an emotional involvement. There also needs to be chemistry between the performers to bring the characters to life, not play-acting in which plausibility suffers severely.
The sitcom world in television
South African theatre, at present, is severely influenced by the sitcom world in television, in which everything is cut down to its bare minimum and everything happens as quickly as possible, completely taking the pleasure out of spending a night at the theatre, where we can fully escape into new and refreshing plays, and not rush to escape out of the theatre.
If you are looking for theatre that is short, sweet and to the point, then Other People's Lives will most definitely satisfy your needs.
Other People's Lives runs until 29 September in the Artscape Arena Theatre. Tickets for all the productions cost R85 via Computicket outlets and 0861 915 8000. Special discounts are available for students and groups of 10 or more and additional offers are available via Artscape box office on +27 (0)21 421 7695.
About Daniel Dercksen
Daniel Dercksen has been a film and theatre journalist in South Africa the past 30 years and as a trainer and educator has presented regular workshops in scriptwriting and creative writing during the past 17 years.