Incomplete Thingsby Ella Grimwade / 10.02.2014
Intimate. The name of the theatre suits the venue and the nature of the play it is currently showing. The Beauty of Incomplete Things is the product of a 15-year long labour of love by director Daniel Dercksen. The play is partly inspired by his earlier work Yes, Masseur, which showed in 1995. Knowing the time, effort, and heartache poured into a work makes me anxious about its quality. I find myself hoping and praying it won’t disappoint. So often when a piece of art has been slaved over, revised, honed, remade in an effort to achieve perfection, it is unwittingly spoilt and over done. A pampered child unable to fend for itself upon release into the big wide world.
When the characters of David and Tommy first step out onto the incense smoke infused stage, my worst fears seem to have been realised. Initially the characters seem two dimensional, clichéd; flat. David, played by the flamboyant and effeminate Wojtek Lipinski, seems to epitomise the stereotypical homosexual man. His gestures have the flourish and style of a high school pantomime. David struts about the holiday home ‘refuge’ indulging in a circular exercise of his vocabulary. He’s addressing Tommy, his new best friend slash trophy rent-boy.
Tommy, played by a striking Rowan Studti, is equally flat at first. Tommy is a classically naïve yet arrogant macho-man who’s found himself in a vocation that he’s ashamed of. There is little depth and the acting seems childish, giving the impression that the actors are faking it.
But it’s all part of the genius of the play. The stilted, translucent façade so aptly performed is itself at the crux of the plot. Dercksen uses these cracked and almost comical, stereotyped character facades to explore the emotional devastation of people unsure of who they are, caught up in performances and always striving to reach expectations. Resenting their roles in life, yet unable to escape them and desperately searching for meaning, for depth, for love.
It seems that, given time and space, there is the potential for the two men to become more honest and genuine. But just as the two characters start coming close to achieving the intimacy they desire, the party is crashed by the introduction of David’s friend Lawrence, played by Andre Lombard.
Lawrence’s introduction as a famous actor and homosexual appears to be an excuse to enact ridiculous character clichés. But Lawrence is an ACTOR who is acting, in every aspect of his life. It becomes clear that Lawrence is terribly lonely and is concealing his devotion to David. This throws the whole relationship dynamic into a mincing machine.
As the play progresses, Dercksen’s characters expand from 2D to multifaceted, complex beings. The blurred lines between friendship, attraction, power and love are sensitively explored through the contorting relationships between the three men. It has soul. Pain, confusion, infatuation and rage pulse through the air with tangible force. Various scenes leave you sharing in the bewilderment or bitterness of the characters, a sour metallic taste in your mouth.
There are still times when the script has a tendency towards overly (and needlessly) complicated dialogue from one or other character. Similarly occasional drifting into kitsch and over-used sentimentality when exploring the pasts, dreams, and personalities of his characters can jarringly halt your immersion into a complex and soulful plot. The consistent reference to trees and nature by Tommy is somewhat overplayed and cringingly sappy. However in spite of this there is something about the play which really hits at your heart. The complex threads of the plot keep roping you back into the performance, dragging you so far on the edge of your seat you are in danger of falling into the plot yourself, and you leave feeling emotionally exhausted, as every tragedy should.
As an audience, Dercksen challenges us to observe the traumas of intimacy, both physical and emotional. To push open the barriers of our mind and how we perceive love, identity, and morality. The play ends with many things left unanswered, but there is certainly a beauty in incomplete things.
*The Beauty Of Incomplete Things is showing at The Intimate Theatre, Cape Town until February 16th
** Images © Hayley Hopley