A blue light beams down onto the dapper suit which clothes a mannequin in the corner of the stage. Steps away is an old piano. The stage is strewn with random props; a pair of pants, a hula hoop, some magazines. Not entirely sure what to expect from the evening, I was pleasantly surprised at the turn of events after Pedro Kruger entered the small stage of Normality at the Baxter last night.
He sits despondently on a bar stool, hunched, with his hands misshapen and clawed. One leg is outstretched, unable to bend. Perching on his seat, clad only in a dress shirt and boxer shorts, he tries to put on one of his socks with the aid of a hooked stick, frustrations greatly mounting. He stops and addresses the audience, explaining to us his condition. He is Alex Miller. He has Junior Rheumatoid Arthritis. Diagnosed at the age of three and told he would never make it past his teens, he sits here at age 35, talking to us about his life.
The play is written by Hennie van Greunen, who spoke to the audience before the play began to reveal to us the motivation behind Normality. He pointed out a lady in the second row whom he identified as his sister – a sufferer of JRA who also wasn’t expected to make it past her teens. Now in her forties and married with children, her ability and determination to face her abnormalities inspired him to write this play and to shed light upon this debilitating condition through a comic and heartfelt character.
Much of Alex’s story is comprised of short comical anecdotes of shopping trips with his Aunt Mavis, told with a distinct wry humour, interspersed with stories of painful isolation and searing self-consciousness. Most of the play, however, revolves around Lisa, the chocolate-milkshake-coloured girl of Alex’s dreams. Throughout the play we see how Lisa’s interest and belief ignites a passion inside Alex that causes him to redefine his own sense of normality.
Music plays a huge role in the production. Alex explains that he feels music inside him, which bubbles up into dreams where he dominates the spotlight, playing the piano like a virtuoso and singing for all to hear. Scattered between Alex’s tales are songs he sings in his head about situations he encounters, one of the most memorable being about how he despises people who say “Ag shame!” when they see him.
In the role of Alex, Pedro Kruger is utterly superb. He contorts his frame and manoeuvres himself across the stage in such a way that the audience was convinced it was his normal form of movement, until the startling moment when he gracefully smoothed out his posture to take on the role of another character in his story. And he inhabits each character with ease, whether it be his Aunt Mavis, a talk show host or the Devil. Kruger’s impressions of his female counterparts were spot on. By taking his voice up an octave, adopting an ultra-feminine posture and fluffing his hair the audience members were left holding their sides on more than one occasion.
Normality is worth seeing not only because it shines a light on JRA and other physical conditions, but because it gives the audience insight into the roller-coaster of emotions that a sufferer may experience. Part laughs, part tears, Normality gives us a unique perspective on our relationship with our bodies and what it really means to be “normal”.
Normality runs at the Baxter Golden Arrow studio 17, 19, 20, 26, 27, 30, 31 October at 7pm, Sunday 21 and 28 October at 3pm. Tickets are R 95 and can be bought from Computicket.
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