Recognising and confronting our neuroses involves a painful but constructive journey toward greater consciousness. Of course what most of us do for most of our lives is avoid our unresolved issues, preferring to create complex behaviour patterns which define our personality rather than enter the battle with the id which has its army interminably gathered on the horizon waiting for us to blow the bugle and enter the fray.
We’re too scared of the carnage to fight our way across the plain in order to begin ascending the mountains beyond to obtain a broader and better informed view of humanity and ourself. Thus we pace the flatlands, this way and that, searching for an easy way through, or simply ignore the fact that there is a richer land to explore and bed down permanently in our house of past traumas.
Risking terribly simplifying a complex process, and possibly mangling technical terminology, this is my amateur understanding of psychology which is brought to bear on our heroine Laura in Louis Viljoen’s play The Pervert Laura.
Laura has experienced intense trauma at a very impressionable age and her immense antipathy toward facing its effect on her psyche results in personality disorders which she struggles to contain. In short, she is fucked up. She is not the kind of woman you want to tangle with.
It’s not that the facts surrounding this traumatic event are unknown to her, they are blindingly clear and have overshadowed her entire life, even though, as one does, they may have been stuffed untidily into a closet for decades. She has never, for instance, told her husband about this definitive moment. She knows what happened, can relate events in detail, but is terrified to face the consequent arrested psychological development. She is stuck in a Freudian phase so taboo she cannot admit to it without also admitting she is a monster. However, the imminent release of her father from jail means she is no longer able to continue avoiding her own particular madness.
As you may have gathered, this play, performed in four scenes, does not romp on green sunny lawns. It is neither soft nor forgiving. It unflinchingly probes territory that hardly bears thinking about. While Laura may have spent most of her life skirting the edges of her id, Viljoen wields the pen as a scalpel to slice straight through the layers of madness to haul out its bleeding black heart for us to see beating.
Viljoen has written a number of excellent plays, The Kingmakers won a Fleur du Cap this year for Best New South African Script and Best Director, the latter award also going to The Pervert Laura. His writing is sharp, cutting, violent, cynical, profane and witty, characteristics equally evident in The Pervert Laura, which pushes its lead actress through demanding territory.
While Child is the hook upon which everything hangs – and she bears the weight with a nervous strength which won her a deserved Fleur du Cap Best Actress award for this role – Nicholas Pauling, Terry Norton and Sarah Potter provide the solidity of performance she needs for firm footing, with each of them producing their defining moments of brilliance demanded in their scene. Guy de Lancey as Laura’s father, however, is superb, his perversion so pure as to approach a twisted holiness. His presence on stage is like anti-matter made visible, turning Laura, so dominant until this point, into a cowering minor demon before Satan’s throne. This interplay between father and daughter is where the hard mask of Viljoen’s writing which so serves to hide his characters’ (or his) vulnerability, slips.
Here the heart finally overcomes the defences of the intellect and the exquisite relief we see in Laura as she lets her dam wall break, is as much Viljoen finally letting go and realising, perhaps, that he doesn’t always have to be such a prick. More please. For while Viljoen has amply proven he can wield words, he has yet to prove he can wield feeling.
The fourth scene in this play hopefully reveals movement toward including emotion rather than excluding it as a stylistic point, a progression which I think would allow us to move from viewing this writer’s own neurotic battleground – which might eventually become tiresome – to being led to higher elevations of genuinely groundbreaking work.
The Pervert Laura is performed at The Fugard Studio Theatre until 30 May. For more information and bookings, go to www.thefugard.com. The Pervert Laura also won playwright Louis Viljoen the Rosalie van der Gucht Prize for Best New Director.
– Steve Kretzmann