Hard-hitting Bash

Bret Easton Ellis. Raymond Carver. These writers jump to mind while watching Neil Labute’s Bash, directed by Megan Willson. Mundane everyday activities are numbing. As Bash’s characters do, we occupy ourselves with daily work or parties or the various and varying dramas that busy our time.

But what’s really going on underneath it all?

Raw and hard-hitting, Bash cuts through our happy bubbles, slashing to the core of human nature. Fear feeds sexism, homophobia, and self-loathing.

Three one-act plays look at ‘decent’ American people who committed horrific acts in their past, justifiable only to themselves. Although as we realise, scarily, perhaps others do understand it all too well…

If you haven’t read the plays, prepare for a jolt.

There’ll be no spoilers here.

“Iphigenia in Orem” is the first play. We meet a corporate businessman who has seemingly suffered a terrible family tragedy. Then he slowly reveals the unthinkable act he committed to preserve his materialistic lifestyle. His misogyny is thinly veiled – his job is threatened by “affirmative action nonsense”. Yet Daniel Janks’ performance is so intricately nuanced that at times we sympathise with him, witnessing the human/monster conflict within him.

John and Sue (embodied faultlessly by James Alexander and Jessica Friedan) just want American dream perfection in the second play, “A Gaggle of Saints”. However, it all unravels into a narcissistic excuse for violence. Sickening twists reveal the double standards inherent in gender and class politics. A brutal gay bashing supplies particular satisfaction to the perpetrator, in comparison to assaulting a straight guy to ‘win’ the girl (shall we discuss the role of subservient female ‘property’? Perhaps another time…)

When a gay couple kisses, they’re “flaunting it”; a hetero couple making out, only normal…

Third act: “Medea Redux”, performed with precision by Ashleigh Harvey. A 14 year old is pregnant. Her high school teacher is responsible. Motherhood, power games, manipulation and revenge are explored through the uncovering of this woman’s sad life. Abused by the teacher, she still defends him, “he wasn’t a molester or anything”.

It’s a cliché to say a play is universal but Bash really is relevant in South Africa. We hear horror stories daily – frighteningly, there are so many we don’t hear. In a society riddled with violence we need to start understanding why and how. Each of the stories in Bash was a real-life event in South Africa this year.

These people are monsters. And these monsters are people. We try to create an emotional distance, a divide, between us ‘normal’ people and those we believe to be damaged and different. But violence is inherent in human nature (an all too easily accepted solution) and, as Bash addresses, we are all capable off unspeakable acts.

Sarah Roberson

Bash is presented by The Wider Ground and 360 Degrees Production House.

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