Welcome to the wasteland

There are times when the veil of our carefully constructed middle class lives tears, or is briefly blown away by a gust of empathy as we consider the beggar at the robots or gaze at the misshapen figures picking through the mountains of waste as we drop building rubble or garden refuse off at the landfill.

Suddenly, we realise just how fragile our lives are, how just a couple of badly timed accidents of fortune, a bad decision or two, and we could also be on the scrapheap, family and friends shattered, future forlorn. For a moment we see a less fortunate version of ourselves. Ourselves without the privilege, the education, the parents we were handed purely by chance.

It is this other world in which Piet se Optelgoed envelopes us. A physical and moral wasteland where survival is the only motivation. Liezl de Kock combines a grotesque physicality with astoundingly nuanced control and an ingeniously simple set that is essentially a giant garbage bag but, like her acting, its simplicity deceives to create a world reminiscent of Cormack McCarthy’s ultimately bleak The Road, or perhaps a circle of Dante’s hell.

Necrophilia, cannibalism, lust, mutilation, as well as companionship, twisted hope and tenderness are all contained in our mute monster’s derelict space.
A less able actor might repel us with these hideous themes and unintentionally force us to shut out, shut off from this inhumane creature and her existence. But de Kock’s brilliance, coupled with director Rob Murray’s bent for creating intrigue, his ability to lure us across the horror house’s threshold before slamming the door shut behind us, makes us examine this mind scape of desolation.

As a result, Piet se Optelgoed leaves you shocked but is not shocking, it leaves you disturbed but is not overtly disturbing. It’s like getting half drunk on wine with a stranger at a brazier at the edge of some party, and then once you’ve befriended each other, to have them confess the most atrocious deeds as if they were simply what people did all the time. Appalled, you’re too far in to extricate yourself, eventually stumbling off dazed and wondering if you really heard what you think you heard, saw what you thought you saw.

Much like a vivid dream, it makes that veil a little more transparent. It will repeat in your mind as your consciousness tries to absorb it, much like a soup gone bad repeats as your guts try digest what you’ve consumed.

The last show of Piet se Optelgoed during the Cape Town Fringe is on tonight, 29 September, at 21.30

— Steve Kretzmann

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