WNYC: The Pain of South Africa, in Soho

Shyko Amos, Khail Toi Bryant, and Thuli Dumakude in generations by debbie tucker green at Soho Rep.                                (Photo: Julieta Cervantes)

WNYC responded wonderfully to Soho Rep.’s production of generations. Click on the below to hear this short and well-considered piece.

The Pain of South Africa, in SoHo

‘Generations’ at SoHo Rep

Saturday, October 18, 2014

It’s a simple story: a humble, loving family is brought down by AIDS in a South African township.

But Debbie Tucker Green’s new play “Generations,” directed by Leah C. Gardiner, is anything but simple.

Let’s start with the set. The inventive SoHo Rep has transformed their small space into a shantytown. Packed red dirt covers the floor, brightly-colored sheets of rusted, corrugated metal line the walls. There’s no typical theater seating here; instead, it’s mismatched kitchen chairs, benches made of planks and crates topped with cushions. At the center is a stove with a pot of bubbling, aromatic stew.

The smell is jolting — more than anything else, it grounds the show, makes it feel like we are visiting someone’s home. The cast, who play three generations of one family, is likewise grounding, undergirding gentle teasing about cooking skills with a sense of love and intimacy.

And then, surrounding the audience, a chorus of a dozen men and women directed by Bongi Duma begin belting South African harmonies. It is immersive.

We need that immersion, because Green’s play has highly-stylized dialogue that might seem cold or confusing in less capable hands. The intricate pattern of her words become like a poem, or like a musical rondo, a theme that repeats over and over but with different emotional overtones. While characters argue who is the best cook, they never mention disease or illness. But as the dialogue is repeated, each time with a new, missing part, the context is heartbreakingly clear.

This formal structure transforms the piece from a simple story about one family to an almost-mythic tale about all families who are faced with such a harrowing loss. For a show that runs only 30 minutes — for any show, really — it’s a remarkable feat.

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