Don’t Miss This Script: A New Series Begins

Colleen and I try with this blog to give readers an inside look at the work of Undermain Theatre and the concerns – practical and theoretical – that animate our artists.  Because we are all in the business of making plays, ultimately there is no stronger call-to-adventure than a great script.

Don’t Miss This Script will be a weekly play recommendation from members of our staff.  We’ll be casting a wide net, recommending classics, modern plays, experimental works, and mainstream successes.  Occasionally one of our artists may draw your attention to a play that makes her hair stand up on end if she feels the script merits discussion.

At the end of each post, I’ll let you know where it is possible to obtain a copy of the recommended script.  Happy reading.

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Plays One

For our first recommendation, I am putting forward Missing, by the South-African playwright Reza de Wet.  De Wet, who died last year, wrote primarily in Afrikaans, but many of her plays are available in English translation (often translated by the author herself).

I came upon Missing last year shortly after a discussion with Undermain’s Artistic Director, Katherine Owens, about the plague of sexless women characters breaking out upon the modern stage.  What struck me almost immediately about Missing (and de Wet’s other work) was the palpable sexuality, which in her clever hands is worked such that the comic becomes dangerous, the earthy becomes mysterious, and vice-versa.

Missing features three women, two middle aged and one young, who drift into a barely submerged competition over an enigmatic blind constable who wanders into their town.  The central pair, mother Miem and daughter Meisie, live near the edge of town and take care of an ailing father who lives in the attic but is never seen.  Miem catches Meisie looking at the lights of a circus going up across the field and chastises her:

MIEM: It’s WICKED!

MEISIE: Yes, Ma.

MIEM: And you still want to look?

MEISIE: Sorry, Ma.

MIEM: Have you no shame?

It seems that each year a young daughter of the community disappears during the circus, and there is hushed talk of bare feet and confirmation dresses.  Is there a predator in the circus troupe, or is it something stranger?  Throughout the play, the music of the circus seeps in through the open door, like a siren’s call to sex.

The Constable claims to be part of an emergency force gathered to patrol on the night of the circus, but something about him does not appear altogether above-board, and it’s possible he has something to do with the missing.

De Wet makes the play deliciously physical.  Gertie, the middle aged friend, jogs in place and swings her arms to warm herself.  The Constable knows people by their smell.  The attic-bound father is given food in a bucket (by pulley-system) and sends it back as waste.  Gertie’s description of the freak show, which she snuck a peak at (just once!  And only to “help me count my blessings”) is a monument in itself, obsessed with the novelties of the body.

Another of Missing’s chief pleasures, in my view, is the sly way de Wet measures magic and menace into an ordinary frame.  Missing is a one-set piece, with four characters and no obvious spectacle, and yet it achieves the depthless, black-water reality of a folktale.

Missing is available, along with two other de Wet plays, in Reza de Wet: Plays One.  The translation of Missing is by Steven Stead.  Plays One can be found in the Central Branch of Dallas Public Library (helpful if you’re in Dallas like us) and can be ordered online through Oberon Books or Amazon.

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