Iconic thatre genius

2012-04-10 00:00

RAJESH Gopie is only in South Africa ­until May, but the Durban-born actor has managed to squeeze into his busy schedule a week-long run of his iconic one-hander, Out of Bounds, at Sibaya Casino’s iZulu Theatre.

“I was in-between things when the opportunity arose to perform at Sibaya,” he says, “and Out of Bounds is the kind of piece that’s easy to resurrect. It’s also a favourite with people. It’s a piece that people want to see.”

Using 28 different characters, Gopie tells the story of Lal Lachund, a young Indian man growing up in eighties’ apartheid South Africa, who lives with his parents and extended family in a cramped house in Inanda, and longs for a house where he has his own room, instead of one which is shared with numerous family members.

His life is shaped by those around him — his father, Arjan, who ekes out a living repairing shoes; his uncles, who are, respectively, a drunkard, a macho bully and a geeky entrepreneur; their wives; his grandmother; cousins; and the family’s domestic worker, Thoko.

But Lal has no desire to be tarred with the same brush as his father, who he considers to be a loser. He would rather aspire to be like his successful uncle, Raj, who has a home in Reservoir Hills and a BMW.

The Coolie Odyssey, offers a stirring account of the indentured Indian labourers who came to work on South Africa’s sugar plantations.

“I haven’t been up north,” Gopie says of staging the play at the iZulu Theatre, “but I hope it may bring in a different kind of audience ... not just Indians, but blacks and whites too. In fact, I dare them.”

Asked why he thought the play, which was first staged at the Market Theatre in 1999, had remained so popular, he says: “It’s that ‘once upon a time’ element, the primal quality of storytelling that we all love. It’s also raw, undisguised and fragile, and Lal’s ability to expose himself to the audience is something people identify with.”

When he leaves South Africa in May, Gopie, who grew up in Clare Estate, will be flying back to his home away from home, Los Angeles, to begin rehearsals for a staging of Nilo Cruz’s surrealistic drama, Lorca in a Green Dress, which looks at the life, death and imagined afterlife of García Lorca, at the Casa 0101 Theatre.

“It’s about Lorca, who is in purgatory and unable to accept death. He goes into different rooms and experiences different aspects of his life. Lorca has to feel that his life was full, even though he died young,” Gopie says of the play.

After the run, he’ll be heading back to South Africa to play the lead in a new crime thriller, which is being directed by Jyoti Mistry and will be shot in Jo­hannesburg. It’s not his first stint in front of the cameras. He also starred in the Rwandan drama, SHansie.

Gopie also reveals that he would also love to bring to South African stages his new sociopolitical musical, Tamasha on Hope Street, which tells the story of an Indian prostitute and a Zimbabwean refugee, who share a street corner in Chatsworth.

But whether or not he will be able to do so, will come down to getting support from administrators in the theatre-arts community.

For those of us drawn to compelling theatre, and who believe there is a need for South Africans of all races to tell our stories, we can only hope that this master storyteller continues to have a platform in his native land.

Out of Bounds, which is written and performed by Rajesh Gopie and

directed by Tina Johnson, is at the iZulu Theatre at Sibaya Casino at 8 pm tonight, tomorrow, Thursday and Friday, at 7 pm and 9.15 pm on Saturday, and at 3 pm and 6 pm on Sunday. Tickets are R120, except for tonight’s low-price preview (tickets are R80), and can be booked through Computicket and the Sibaya box office.

• arts@witness.co.za

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