The Hucksters: Power and the damage done

Warning: Like the play, this post contains strong language.

Emily Child and Nicholas Pauling in The Hucksters. Photo: Barbara Loots
Emily Child and Nicholas Pauling in The Hucksters. Photo: Barbara Loots

Toxic masculinity. A phrase become shorthand for reductive thinking. It’s now a catch phrase. Time to dig down.

Toxic femininity. Now there’s one to introduce to the lexicon. Only whispered on the global conveyors of hashtag information, we’ve yet to speak it out loud, much less investigate its nuance. It barely makes it out of the kitchen, where it is brewed before being served in the bedroom. Which is where the two have always clashed, and where Louis Viljoen sets his play. In this arena the physical violence of the male asserting itself over the female tends to leave evidence. Blunt as a dick. The psychological manipulation of female victory is harder to see. Intricate as a cunt. These are words that intersperse Viljoen’s text like flailing punches in a bar fight.

So what happens when bad things happen to bad people? Is that justice? Did she deserve it?

Emphatically no. No question, states our man Fred. Really? Probes our woman Beth. She’s guilty of despicable things, manipulations. His most despicable act was against her, and in hindsight the one that made her take cognisance of her arseholery. They’re both arseholes. They’re in advertising. Fred’s not the one who did THE thing – things, actually – that led to charges being filed. That was his friend Lucas. ‘Was’ being the operative word.

Viljoen takes the whole godamn mess and spills it out over the sheets. A forensic investigator of sexual warfare pulling apart the strands of drying semen and vaginal discharge to determine the DNA.

Nick Pauling expertly walks the wire of sympathy, remorse, and honesty. An honesty Beth’s spitfire musings turn into a virtue of little value. All honesty does is establish consensual facts, but facts are not determined by honesty, they exist of themselves. It is the truth behind them we seek. And truth lies with the person perceiving it.

Emily Child as Beth, having absorbed the violence and perversity of the worst elements of male nature and survived it, is able to counter, use the female ability to turn the psycho-sexual lever and take her victory. The tragedy in Viljoen’s play is that power through sex is a pyrrhic victory.

It is a fascinating play, and timely.

Viljoen can, and does, direct it. He’s done so with many of his plays, and achieved much success. I don’t know how much this is due to the budgetary constraints of independent theatre. I’d love to see someone else direct this. Mametspeak is a valid style, and from a personal perspective of more value than some, and the text is made for it. Yet surely inserting an element of physicality between the talking heads would serve more grip. Despite the moments of inspired blocking, often the words tend to slide past in their steadfast delivery.

The Hucksters initially played at the Alexander Bar. It is now at the Baxter Golden Arrow Studio until 1 Feb. Tues – Sat at 20h00, Sat at 15h00. Tickets R120, discounts available. No under-18s. More info and bookings here.

Written and directed by Louis Viljoen, designed by Niall Griffin, acted by Emily Child and Nicholas Pauling.

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