Review: Line is Profound But Lacks Comic Entertainment

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Line at the Little TheatreA one-act comedy, Line is billed as the longest-running play in New York.  If that wasn’t enough to spark interest, the play – written by acclaimed playwright Israel Horovitz – has been staged in over 25 countries and translated into over 35 languages and is here directed by the award-winning Yvonne Copley.

Then there is its peculiar plot description which describes… well… very little, coupled with an age restriction and a cast of individuals recognizable from their work in everything from local soapies such as Isidingo to Hollywood blockbusters such as Invictus and Safehouse. This was a play I had to see.

The Little Theatre is a cosy construction just beyond the heart of town at UCT’s drama school, Hiddingh Campus. Not to be mistaken with the Intimate Theatre or the Arena Theatre, the Little Theatre is the ‘big one’ on the premises, reminiscent of the Labia Cinema across Orange Street.

The plot of the play could hardly be simpler. Nothing really happens. ‘Nothing, but everything’ in the words of Eugene Ionesco. In summary, Flemming, a fellow somewhat light in the head, decides to draw a line and wait behind it. Over the course of the evening, passers-by not only join the line out of curiosity, but start to fight to get in front. Different methods of deceit are adopted by each character to achieve his or her aim.

Actions that would normally be considered unacceptable are, in the minds of the characters, justified by their need to get to the front of the line. And so although the contrasting characters seem different on the surface, they share a curious trait common to all humanity – an insatiable lust for the self-induced pride of being first.

Bjorn Steinbach gives an extremely energetic portrayal of Stephen, a Mozart-obsessed know-it-all, while Leon Clingman adopts Flemming’s dim-wittedness in a raw unquestioning fashion. Dolan, a deceptively calm and reserved man is played by Aidan Whytock, who convincingly embraces this shady character with his whole body language – the way he stands, moves and gazes out into the night. Marlisa Doubell plays the controlling adulteress Molly with a fine timing of both phrase and eyelash, while Gavin Werner as Molly’s confused husband Arnall has the audience grieved by his naïveté.

The production makes use of pre-recorded audio footage, and the air vents in the theatre do not allow for a moment of silence, which is sorely missed. However, the creative use of lighting and stop-start motion as the characters physically fight with each other is supremely well chosen.

Disappointingly I found the show did not provide the comic entertainment I had hoped for.  Absurd and profound, yes, but frankly I tired of the characters persistence in trying to get in front of the others. Nonetheless, the metaphor sank home and the thoughts inside my head after the play were filled with the shameful truth about humanity, and the lengths to which people will go to in order to get ahead.

Altogether, the experience of watching Line was a worthwhile one. Theatre, as Line shows all too well, is a mirror. Seldom you look into it and walk away without changing something.

Maike Gevers

‘Line’ runs until 28 April at the Little Theatre in Hiddingh Campus, Orange Street, Cape Town.

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