Let me start by saying that very often, when you go watch a play, you are very likely to see some familiar faces, faces that you have seen on tv. Yet, what you see on tv is only but a faint glimmer of the brilliant light of those actor’s or actresses’s talent when they peal away layers of their characters on stage – so close you can almost touch their souls.
The Dying Screams Of The Moon is a play by Dr. Zakes Mda over twenty years ago. Dr. John Kani directed this current iteration of the piece with an all female cast and crew as a commemorative work in celebration of the Market Theatre’s 40th anniversary. It is set around the mid 90’s when the country was blissfully caught up in the high of the birth of the ‘rainbow nation’.
A woman (Masasa Lindiwe Mbangeni) walks into a lonely chapel on a farm in the Free State. She was born on the farm but, she’s be gone for years. She doesn’t have a name, she’s simply called ‘Lady’. In the chapel, she meets ‘uBaba’ (Ezbie Sebatsa Moilwa), who is practising hymns on the chapel’s organ. After a brief yet awkward exchange between uBaba and the Lady, in walks a white woman, also sans name. UBaba timidly calls her Missy (Tinarie van Wyk Loots). She was also born on the farm. The two women have never met before.
The simplicity of the play, as it begins, leaves you unwittingly vulnerable to what is about to transpire. Nomvula Molepo’s lighting design now and then splashes vibrant stained glass pallets on the muted tones of Karabo Legoabe’s bare set design that is deceptive in how it hides the layers of imagery that the story invokes.
After a few hauntingly nostalgic hymns that uBaba caresses out of the piano, you learn about the women’s lives through their seemingly hostile engagement with each other. Lady is a former freedom fighter who has just returned from exile with only a paper bag full of belongings to show for almost a lifetime spent fighting for others to have more. Her anger pushes against her ribs and her bitterness is heavy on her breath. Her sense of betrayal seems to overshadow the blind jubilation that has consumed the country. “I became a soldier because I am a mother”, she protests. She alludes to how, in times of war, a black woman’s body is deemed fit to bear arms, to bare children and to bare with men’s banal desires. Yet, in times of peace, it seems that a black woman’s body becomes the front lines for man’s war against himself. Her narrative articulates how the concept of how a “strong black woman” is an inherent virtue that has been bent into a patriarchal cage from which her heart is not allowed to sing, lest its song speak truth to power.
Missy was also soldier, in the former apartheid SADF. She, however, had never been in actual battle. Her’s was a different kind of war. While a black woman’s suffering is deemed a palatable public spectacle, Missy’s fight is expected to be silent, private and polite. She is, after all, the a prim and proper, blond and blue eyed wife of a man who himself is a valiant soldier. A soldier in an army of men who believe that they were thrust into a war by God himself, a God who values only one race and despises another. In this war, they kill, torture, rape men, women and children, and commit atrocities all in the name of moral superiority. And, when he returns home, he will find Missy waiting for him. He will take her love and, like a damp rag, use it to wipe off the blood of innocent people. It is within her embrace that he grants himself permission to regain his humanity. It is in her heart that he finds refuge from his heinous acts. And, like a damp rag, the one who soils it is the one who discards it.
The two women come undone in front of each other. The pendulum of the narrative swings between their differences and similarities. At times the story is bold, brash and offensive. Other times it is delicate, heart wrenching and as touching as two women symbolically sharing a shawl, as Nthabiseng Makone’s costume design takes on a form of character in the story. The two women bare what is most important to them; Missy wants to keep what she believes is rightfully hers through her own hard work, inherited from those who came before her. As for Lady, well, she has come to get her land back. The land on which her family lived before the Missy’s family moved them to build their farm.
By the end of the play, you understand why the two women do not have names. It is not to deny them their own identity. It is because they do, in fact, have many names, many faces and many personal narratives all orbiting the same scorching fight against patriarchy, institutional racism, sexual violence, cultural oppression, heteronormativity and the fight for ownership of one’s Self. The Dying Screams Of The Moon, is a story set in a chapel, in the ubiquitous middle of nowhere. Yet, at it’s core, is a conversation at an intersection of two lives. This conversation occurs daily. In aisles of grocery shops, lecture halls, boardrooms and kitchens of suburbia. It occurs daily at every point where the lives of women of different races intercept, yet, not a single word is ever uttered. It is a conversation that we as a country are dying to have.
Masasa Lindiwe Mbangeni and Tinarie van Wyk Loots give a bold, brave and honest performance of a topic that we as South Africans struggles to even whisper in the each other’s multiracial presence. You can relate to where they have to go in order to bring out such a powerful piece. At the very least, you can go and watch them do it.
The Dying Screams Of The Moon is currently running at the Market Theatre until the 21st of August. Book at Computicket or call 083 915 8000.