It begins in a room, starkly suggestive of a home. One chair, one table, one glass, one bottle of wine, one ashtray, one lighter, one box of cigarettes, and one sinner. The singularity suggests loneliness and abandon, emphasized by monologue.
A one-woman, one-act theatrical production, Oh Baby, I’m a Wild One is a character study following the thought processes of a young teacher. She arrives home from her sister’s wedding, clearly lonely, clearly distressed and clearly needing to get something off her mind. She speaks out in an attempt to make sense of the last few days and the last few hours, railing at her frustration with her family, her attempts to stop smoking and her need to divulge a secret she shares with a troubled boy in the back of her class.
We meet her and, through the ramblings that spew from her mouth in disjointed prose, we meet other characters too. Her voice and manner shift slightly with each impersonation as we meet her sister – the wild one – and her sister’s new husband: the slimy, groping groom of the recent evening. We also meet her mother, a fierce-yet-attention-seeking woman, and her father who is timid and subdued, overshadowed and disregarded by mother and daughters alike. And we meet a tragic student who somehow means something to our protagonist.
Written and directed by Louis Viljoen, the resident writer at the Fugard Theatre, Oh Baby, I’m a Wild One is a piece of uncompromising dark comedy. His primary job as a playwright, according to Viljoen, is to entertain. But although he’s writing comedy – and one does find oneself laughing at his puns and political or social references – the substance is pretty serious. A writer of well-received plays including The Pervert Laura and The Emissary, Viljoen deals with sensitive and relevant subject matter. He has won the Fleur du Cap for ‘Best New South African Script’ in 2013 for Champ and 2015 for The Kingmakers. Pair this talent with actress Emma Kotze and you have a force to be reckoned with.
Kotze graduated from UCT in 2013 in Theatre and Performance and since has performed in a number of productions such as Salt, In The Wings and Reparations. Her performance in Oh Baby, I’m a Wild One explains her nomination in 2014 for the Fleur du Cap for ‘Most Promising Student’ as she evokes emotion from the viewer with her expression, vocal changes and carefully constructed body language. As she throws off her high heels and sheds her formal dress for more comfortable clothes, she makes us comfortable too. In watching we forget ourselves until we are pulled back by startling cross-references to our own thoughts.
The simplicity of the production allows one to focus on the act and the script. No flashing lights or fancy tricks, no glitz or glam. It is succinct and short, allowing the audience to digest the words gushing from her mouth. A respectable approach, it nonetheless relies totally on the talent of the performer and her director.
In true Viljoen style, the script features profanity, nudity and ample sexual references. The use of taboo words and profanities, in fact, makes his characters more real and more relatable. This shock-value is definitely a factor in the play’s success. It kind of makes you think about all the nasty things that you would say out loud if you could. So as much as it is a character study – and maybe this is the point – it may also be a study of the character, possibly in everyone.
This character permeates the viewer, filling us up and setting us off on a free-thought-flow of self-scrutiny. A final word, a puff of smoke and you’re left alone in the dark with just your thoughts for company.
Oh Baby, I’m a Wild One runs at Alexander Bar, Cape Town until 24 December 2016.