Khutjo Green and Craig Morris in Allan Horwitz’s Boykie and Girlie.
When Tolstoy stated at the beginning of Anna Karenina that “all happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”, either he was writing about families as distinct from relationships, or he was being a smartarse.
Dysfunctional relationships are as tedious in their unhappiness as a depressed person is tedious to one who is tied to them by filial bonds but enjoys the fortune of vitality, as the play Boykie and Girlie illustrates.
Not that the play was tedious, no, it was a fine play, precisely because it was an hour or less – perfectly sufficient to drive its point home: dysfunction makes for great fiction but awful reality.
The question playwright and director Allan Horwitz doesn’t answer is why these two evidently intelligent individuals continue to stick it out, treading the same groove they’ve hollowed over four years.
Girlie, played by Khutjo Green, who is a financially independent lawyer, comes across as having more than enough spunk to ditch her depressed, out-of-work, cynical and emotionally abusive Boykie (Craig Morris), yet instead weathers his manipulative sexual reminiscences.
Perhaps it is exactly this manipulation which makes her feel insecure enough to doubt her ability to find a better mate? Perhaps it is a lingering guilt at the fact it was once she who was dependent on him that keeps her from exiting the relationship? Which is exactly why Horwitz – who with evidently apt direction avoids the writer/director trap of laboured drama – doesn’t answer the question. If he did, there would be no suspense placed before us other than whether or not Boykie is ever going to manage to take a shit.
He does well to provide hints but evade the answer and beside the lingering question of motivation, the surprises contained in this dialogue-driven two-hander are evenly spaced, creating regularly alternating pace. Possibly, in stark contrast to Boykie’s bowels, too regular. About halfway in I could begin to predict when the ante would suddenly be upped by a throwaway remark smothered in bitterness or wrapped in scorn.
Girlie either has secrets or she loves her constipated boyfriend more than what is good for her. As for Boykie, he’s easier to read. He’s got a dynamo of a gorgeous woman who cares for him and either loves him or is willing to, but he can’t even find the will to put on a clean shirt. What’s eating him is the fact that he is a writer who was once ascending the steps of acclaim and relative fortune but has since fallen off the ladder. Yet he chooses to contemplate his joblessness, pennilessness and consequent dependency rather than focus on supporting and being attentive to his long-term cohabiting girlfriend who expresses no resentment at his financial dependency. This is no surprise, unless the observation that men obtain meaning primarily through their work while women generally place their relationships above their profession is new to you.
This domestic dystopia may sound rather intriguing, and it may seem contrary to my opening statement to say it is, especially since the emotional nuance is so excellently portrayed by this Joburg duo of Green and Morris (who has morphed from a powerful dancer and physical theatre performer into a damn impressive actor of late; he says it’s by applying a theory of micro choreography), but that’s precisely because, as I stated, it is a short slice of life and fiction to boot. Over the longer term, this relationship, while filled with unpleasant drama, perhaps even, should Boykie consume sufficient quantities of vodka, enough to make page 6 in the Daily Sun, would go the same way as all other unhappy partnerships: down a well-worn path of bitterness, anger, heartbreak and regret.
Better to risk Tolstoy’s impotent scorn and choose a more fulfilling path.
If you haven’t booked for the last show at Alexander Upstairs theatre tonight (Saturday 16 January) then I suggest you keep an eye out for when it hopefully comes around again.