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A COOKIE IN THE KITCHEN (article first published : 2005-08-4)

Good to see writer and director Vivian Moodley moving into mainstream theatre with his new play, A Cookie in the Kitchen, which is running at Catalina Theatre. In this one-woman show about a few hours in the life of a subservient suburban Indian woman, he has produced a well-structured production containing good dialogue accompanied by a fair dollop of humour but hinting at the darker side of the woman’s existence.

Like the majority of women of her culture in her teenage days, Cookie’s marriage was arranged, her future husband impressing her father with his sexist ideals that a woman’s place is in the kitchen. Now “king of the house” he spends most of the time on the sofa watching television with Cookie at his beck and call, ferrying bottles of whisky, nuts, chips and other delicacies.

The scene is Cookie’s kitchen where she is cooking – and she really does! – her husband’s favourite meal (which he later spurns). Along the way, there’s a pan of food for Michael who lives in the outbuilding and has been in her life since childhood. In the next room, her husband and a couple of mates are watching their heroes, Manchester United, in a televised match which is not going their way. While her relationship with Michael is respectful and amiable, happily discussing the outcome of the match he is supporting (he is a Bafana Bafana fan), her role as a wife is reduced to a cringing, falsely-smiling subservience.

As she goes about her tasks - in between yelling at unseen children and carrying glasses, bottles and snacks next door - Cookie reminisces about the people who made up her formative years and expanding on their individual stories. The wide-ranging characters are well-drawn and credible and Kumseela recreates them with vigour and a fine observance of voice, facial movements and body gestures. I particularly enjoyed the Nut-Uncle!

Kumseela Naidoo is an accomplished actress with a good flair for comedy who does credit to the script although I sometimes felt that the Cookie whose thoughts we were privy to share and the real Cookie did not always match. This may be the playwright’s intention – to indicate that her life is a sham and the real person is only revealed in her thoughts - but the speech patterns are too markedly different.

However, my main concern is that Kumseela’s performance is over-careful and more suited to a large community hall which necessitates a slower presentation. I would like to see her speech, actions and thought processes accelerated which would give the role stronger credibility. While I hate to see microphones used in a theatre, at least it means that every word she says is audible and not drowned out by that hideous extractor unit that mars so many dramatic productions at Catalina.

While the play is presented in two acts, I feel that it loses its strength by adding a second half. The scenario is well set earlier in the play as regards the inevitable outcome if the match doesn’t turn out the way her husband wants. While the second act allows us to see Kumseela’s dramatic talents coming to the fore, I think the play would be more powerful if it came to an end at the close of the first half – with the audience left to use their imagination as to what lies ahead.

I would strongly urge you to see this production because it introduces to mainstream theatre two new strong talents in a show that has great potential and is very entertaining.

A Cookie in the Kitchen runs at Catalina Theatre from August 2 to 14 nightly at 20h00 (18h00 on Sundays). Tickets R60 (R50 pensioner and students). To book call Thandeka or Janice on 031 305 6889. For block booking discounts and charity fundraisers call Glenda on 031 305 7612. – Caroline Smart




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