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GRAHAMSTOWN - DRAMA (article first published : 1999-07-7)

Out of Bounds is directed by Tina Johnson for Theatre Arts Projects and stars Rajesh Gopie. In this one-man show, this young actor proves himself a consummate storyteller, relating his tales with sensitivity, humour and panache. The story is told from the viewpoint of Lal Lalchund, growing up in a working class Indian community in Phoenix, Durban. He was part of a joint family system – “all I wanted was my own bedroom” - with at least 12 children sleeping in a bed.

When his uppity aunt decided to employ a maid, it was the best thing to happen in his life and in his stout little heart, he swore to preserve her from harm - a philosophy which was sorely stretched one night when he hears strange sounds of seeming agony coming from her room. Peeking through the door, prepared to be the Lalchund warrior (as his uncles never tired of telling him was their proud heritage) and rescue her, he discovers a figure of evil (his uncle, in fact) on top of her, bouncing up and down ... “and eating her!”

There are hilarious scenes, particularly one between his mother and his aunts and another which involved his male relatives in a drunken stupor after a party. He wonders as he looks from his father to himself “To think that this made this!” We hear of his shame of his dwelling place - pretending to head to a smarter house when the bus dropped him off after school, how he got roped into a gang and the day Cupid first hit him between the eyes with Cheryl Ogle “sex on legs!”

Another well-drawn story was his beloved grandmother’s annual birthday when the entire Lalchund family went to the beach. “Indian mothers should get an Oscar for their performance on the beach, “ he says ironically. “They’re always screaming: Don’t you go too far, you can’t swim, come back ,… if you get drowned, I’ll kill you!” Before long, they are are interrupted by two white policemen (“I had never seen a white person so close before”) and made to move to the Indian part of the beach. Suddenly the Lalchund warriors were not so warrior-like and Lal got his first taste of apartheid.

The story continues through the violence in Inanda in 1985 when the family was forced to flee and the family split up. His father started “a shoe repair business from home and got very strange”. The neighbours were equally strange: on the one side the man was invariably in jail during which time his wife ran her own business of a distinctly sexual nature. On the other side was a wife-beater who constantly spat into the yard.

Lal works hard and gets a bursary to University where he meets barbie doll Alysh Maharaj. His cross-dressing cousin embarrasses the family at a celebration and Lal is the only one to recognise the internal suffering of the young man, a suffering which is to end in tragedy. Another high point is Lal’s farewell speech before he leaves for overseas and the painful showdown with his father.

Rajesh chose the title Out of Bounds to reflect how people hold onto a sense of something that is not of their concern and, in so doing, step out of bounds. The production won an FNB Vita Award and is normally performed in two parts. Appearing on the Standard Bank National Arts Festival Fringe without an intermission, it tends to be too long. Perhaps there should be a cut version for festival purposes because this is a strong, well-directed and extremely worthwhile production that is well worth seeing.


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