The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings
A CurtainUp Berkshire Review
By Macey Levin
Pretty Mbane (Samira Wiley) ran a safe house for lesbians in Cape Town while leading a campaign to outlaw "corrective rape." Many South Africans believe that if a lesbian is gang-raped she will change her sexual orientation. Governmental institutions have accepted this notion as a possibility and continue to ignore women's allegations of abuse.
Noxolo (Alfie Fuller,) who once took refuge in the safe house, has not heard from Pretty for weeks. Despite having a visa allowing her to stay in England if she plays soccer, Noxolo leaves her job in a gay bar owned by Marcel (Phillip James Brandon) and flies home.
Her brother, Sicelo (Atandwa Kani) a taxi driver, has been hired by an American free-lance journalist, Gregory (Michael Braun), who is in Cape Town to cover the 2010 World Cup soccer tournament. He is surprised to see Noxolo and insists she return to London because she is not safe in South Africa. Gregory inadvertently meets with Noxolo and she asks his help in finding Pretty. Little by little the three become involved in various facets of intrigue and secrets. As truths are revealed their lives become more endangered.
The portrait of life for LGBTs in South Africa, which is the only country on the continent that has legal same-sex marriage, is still a brutal day-to-day existence. One of playwright Silverman's intentions is to reveal the governmental and social hypocrisy in the land of the late freedom fighter Nelson Mandela.
The acting is incredibly precise and incisive; every word rings with truth. The emotional realities the entire cast brings to their performances are riveting.
Fuller's Noxolo is a woman who finds the strength to recognize a cause—to fight for the freedom to be who she is. Sicelo is a complex role that Kani fulfills with intelligence and vibrancy, though he does have a shady side.
Fuller has the most lyrical speeches as Pretty; her delivery is cogent though understated. She breaks the fourth wall as she reveals her state of mind to the audience. Braun's Gregory is low-key in comparison to the South Africans who have more at stake than he does,but he does enter into the game wholeheartedly in order to get the story.
Marcel, Noxolo's boss from the gay bar, in Brannon's hands is a fascinating character as he chastises her foolhardy return to the home country, he left years earlier. He is sympathetic to her as he offers wise advice.
Director Saheem Ali builds the tension from the first moment and he doesn't let up. The pace runs headlong as his actors move through the conflicts and pain they confront. The production could have been melodramatic, but Ali's interpretation and control renders it theatrically powerful.
The production is emotionally fraught from the moments the lights, designed by Lap Chi Chu, rise on the creative set design by Dane Laffrey. The audience feels as if it is in a soccer stadium as field lights are focused on the house; this occurs with each scene change directly involving the audience in the conflict. The set initially resembles a stadium wall, various scenes being placed on either side of the stage until the wall opens, by the actors, to reveal Pretty's safe house apartment.
Palmer Hefferan's sound design contributes to the feel of a soccer match as some of the cues are at a high decibel level. The costumes by Dede Ayite contrast both the characters' ethnicity and the accepted dress in the two different countries.
This is the last of Williamstown's season. It closes August 19. Hopefully it will have a life beyond this run.
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Dangerous House by Jen Silverman
Directed by Saheem Ali
Cast: Samira Wiley (Pretty Mbane) Alfie Fuller (Noxolo) Phillip James Brannon (Marcel) Atandwa Kani (Sicelo) Michael Braun (Gregory)
Scenic Design: Dane Laffrey
Costume Design: Dede Ayite
Lighting Design: Lap Chi Chu
Sound Design: Palmer Heffernan
Stage Manager: Ellen Goldberg
Running time: 85 minutes, no intermission
Williamstown Theatre Festival, Nikos Stage, Williamstown, Massachusetts
Opening: 8/8/2018; Closing: 8/19/2018
Reviewed by Macey Levin at August 12, 2018, performance
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