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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

THE CONDUCT OF LIFE (article first published : 2002-03-1)

It’s not always easy to find a powerful play that calls for a fair-sized cast and this was the problem faced by Technikon Natal’s drama studies department head Debbie Lütge when she was looking for the year’s first production for her students.

Maria Fornes’s powerful one-acter The Conduct of Life held all the dramatic ingredients she wanted. It’s the scenario of a sexually perverted husband (Orlando) who keeps a young girl (Nena) in a cage for his bestial gratification while long-suffering glamorous wife (Leticia) can only guess at the dark activities in the cellar. There is an all-knowing maid (Olimpia) and a friend Alejo who appears to have feelings stronger than friendship for Orlando.

Good play, but only a cast of five. So, Debbie Lütge came up with the masterly idea of doubling the cast and having the action take place in duplicate, as it were.

So there are two of each of the characters Orlando (Denton Douglas and Tommy Kyd), Leticia (Natasha Hosken and Gulshan Mia), Nena (Dumisile Mqadi and Farla Simon), Olimpia (Zipporah Jali and Samantha Wright) and Alejo (Wesley Woolf and Sthembiso Mabatha). One section is set in the 1940’s, the other in the present.

In her skilful adaptation of the dialogue, Debbie Lütge has created a fast-moving and controlled scenario that rages as tempestuously as a Wagnerian orchestral score. Sometimes same characters speak their lines together, occasionally the scenes are played out with both groupings handling the dialogue and there are times when a short scene will be repeated by the alternate grouping. Occasionally the action in one group can upstage the other but generally the device works extremely well. Early rehearsals must have been little short of mildly chaotic!

The brutality is relentless and explicit. The scenes of sexual abuse take place in varying formats and on different stage levels. Denton Douglas’s Orlando is bullying and savage while Tommy Kyd’s version is cool, insidious and malicious. This is a highly challenging and very mature production for a student cast and they handled the high intensity nature of the play consistently and with passion.

While in the main, the scenes are powerful and physical, there are moments of poignancy such as the time when the Nenas try to hide from their attackers, the one in a blanket and the other in a carboard box barely large enough to hold her. Their scene in which they confide to the maids was beautifully handled and spine-chilling in its naively-related horror.

Each cast member puts in a fine performance and if this is how they start the year off, we can look forward to exciting months to come.

Wendy Adendorff has created an impressively forbidding set, all the more disturbing for its imagery of cages and confinement and Tina le Roux’s well-placed lighting design adds to its impact.

The Conduct of Life runs nightly at 19h00 in the Courtyard Theatre, Mansfield Road, until March 2. Please be warned that this is very definitely an “adults only” production and not for sensitive audiences. Tickets R25 at Computicket. – Caroline Smart




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