Marion and Solomonby Bongani Kona / 18.07.2013
One morning in April 2006, police officers found the bodies of actor Brett Goldin (28) and fashion designer Richard Bloom (27) under a bush of trees next to the Klipfontein offramp of the M5 highway in Cape Town. The two men, it transpired later, had been hijacked coming from a party in Camps Bay by a gang of four; all of whom were in their late teens of early twenties. They were then stripped naked, except for their socks, and shot once in the head, execution-style, with 9mm C7 75 automatics.
At the time of the murders playwright Lara Foot-Newton, a colleague and friend of Brett Goldin’s, had been sketching the outlines of play on crime prompted by the violent security guard strikes of that year which left a handful of people dead. Goldin’s death, however, crystallized these floating thoughts into the award-winning play, Marion and Solomon; the story of an elderly woman, Marion Banning (Dame Janet Suzman), struggling to come to terms with the murder of her son years after he’s gone.
The thing about grief is that it distorts time. The grieving subject, for a while, is unable to face forward as they relentlessly comb through the events of the past. In The Year of Magical Thinking, American writer Joan Didion’s classic memoir of the death of her husband John Gregory Dunne; the telling aspect about her condition is that she refuses to give his shoes away. Because, she says, when he comes back from the hospital he will need shoes to wear. The act, if you consider it, is a refusal to come to terms with the future.
This is Marion’s psychological state at the beginning of the play. She’s divorced and lives in alone in a house that’s “in between, neither in the city nor in the townships” in the Eastern Cape. The house itself is filled with mementos of happier times. Portraits of her daughter and grandsons, now in Australia, hang on the wall together with off course, the murdered son. She’s waiting to die when into her life comes Solomon Xaba (Khayalethu Anthony); a young black man whose entire life has been attempt to stay head above water. A high school dropout orphaned at an early age; he’s had nothing but poor paying dead-end jobs.
“I’ve seen you lurking around my house for days. If you’re going to kill me be quick about it” Marion says to Solomon. It is a uniquely South African nightmare this: that young men armed with Berettas or butcher knives are lurking in the shadows, waiting for the perfect time to strike. Though we are wont to admit it in public, most of us live with a near constant low-grade anxiety that someone like Solomon will one day show up at the doorstep.
Solomon has no such intentions. He’s the grandson of Marion’s former housekeeper and has been sent to watch over her. Initially suspicious of each other, a bond resembling friendship gradually forms between the two as they each try to settle terms with the past. In this country that has succeeded as Marion says in the “equal distribution of violence.” Until one day Solomon, in one of the affecting scenes of the play, reveals the real reason why he has been coming to see her. It’s a moment which tests their newly found friendship.
Marion and Solomon is one of the best plays I’ve seen in a long time. It really touches on what it means to live in this country; caught as we are it seems, between a scream and a lullaby.
* Marion and Solomon plays at the Baxter Theatre until the 20th July.
** Images © Ruphin Coudyzer