‘Auditioning Angels’ by Pieter-Dirk Uys heads La MaMa’s ‘Experimenta!’ festival

To celebrate the Tenth Anniversary of its Experiments Playreading Series, La MaMa E.T.C. will present “Experimenta!,” a festival that proudly produces a sampling of its work in full productions. Audiences will be offered a cross-section of the themes and styles of the Experiments Series’ diverse playwrights, who range from emerging too established. The plays of the festival–four one-acts and two full-length plays in rolling rep–will all be directed by George Ferencz, Curator of the Experiments Series, from October 18 to November 4 in La MaMa’s First Floor Theater.

Toplining the festival is “Auditioning Angels” by Pieter-Dirk Uys, a comedy about the politics of AIDS and other taboo subjects in South Africa.

When La MaMa’s founder, Ellen Stewart, announces new plays with, “Welcome to La MaMa E.T.C., dedicated to the Playwright,” she means it. The Experiments Series was started during the 1998-99 season to emphasize the literary element of La MaMa that made it famous in the early ’60s. To underline this, the festival launches on the date of La MaMa’s 46th birthday, October 18.

The series lineup is a selection of plays of unusual quality, with works that are exciting in their social activism, new stage language, innovative structure and humor. The other plays to be presented are “The War Zone Is My Bed” Yasmine Beverly Rana, “Plains” by Stacia Saint Owens, “Waiting for Mert” by Michael Zettler, “Tentagatnet” by Peter Dizozza and “Schrodinger’s Cat” by Stan Kaplan.

The Experimenta! One group of actors, all veterans of the series, will perform the plays. Scenic Artist is Mark Keogh. Lighting design is by Federico Restrepo. Costume design is by Emmy-winner Sally Lesser. There will be unique soundscapes for each show, some recorded (by Bob Jewett and Obie-winners Gengi Ito and Tim Schellenbaum) and some live (by Peter Dizozza).

George Ferencz has been a resident director of La MaMa for 25 years and is Founding Curator of the Experiments Series. He directed La MaMa’s celebrated revival of Sam Shepard’s “Tooth of Crime” last season.

Auditioning Angels a play by Pieter Dirk Uys
AUDITIONING ANGELS- In this play by Pieter-Dirk Uys, a nurse displays an AIDS baby she has hidden in a box. L-R: Jenne Vath, Peter McCabe, Sheila Dabney, Sonja Perryman, Will Rhys. Photo by Mark Roussel

“Auditioning Angels” is the latest full-length play by Pieter-Dirk Uys, the satirist and “actor-vist” whom Time Out (London) deemed ” the court jester of South Africa.” In this wise, satirical comedy–his first new play in eleven years–Uys takes on South Africa’s national traumas of racism, AIDS and child rape. In a vast public hospital, where celebrity face-lift facilities are more important than hallways crowded with AIDS patients, a prominent, powerful family must sort out the supposed rape of an eight year-old girl. Working through a catharsis of pain and anger, they discover new compassion and learn to believe in angels. Uys has described the play as a drama about “things people don’t want to confront, issues that are politically incorrect and often dangerous to exploit or explain.” It makes a stirring case for worldwide adoption of AIDS babies.

Uys offered “Auditioning Angels” to George Ferencz for La MaMa’s reading series in 2003, during his last appearance at La MaMa. He was then appearing in “Foreign Aids,” a production which earned him a 2004 Obie Award and admiration among NY critics for his charming activism. The New York Times (Margo Jefferson) commended Uys for daring to make the South African government acknowledge the extremity of the H.I.V.-AIDS epidemic there, writing, “Artists make people see and hear what institutions try to make invisible and inaudible. And since they rarely get a lot of money to do this, they need passion, imagination and craft. Mr. Uys (pronounced ACE) has all three.” The Village Voice (Tom Sellar) wrote, “Foreign Aids offers a healthy dose of indignation and a cry for decency. But Uys charms at least as well as he proselytizes; his pronouncements on everything from colonialism to condom couture make for potentially lifesaving satire.”

Born to a Jewish-Berlin mother and an Afrikaner Calvinist father, Uys jokes that he belongs to both chosen (white) peoples. It is reputed that Uys is related to a 17th Century black Cape courtesan, thus making him a true local native. He was born in Cape Town in 1945 and has outlived the official apartheid, which ended in 1994. Upon returning from the London Film School in 1973, Uys began putting on plays of political/social commentary and skating on politically thin ice. In 1975, he directed a trilogy that had one play that could be read but not seen and another that could be seen and not read. Having had six of his more “serious” plays banned in the seventies, he adapted by establishing himself as a comic and letting humor effectively make all the same points. His most visible creation, Mrs. Evita Bezuidenhout, is known and accepted as the “most famous white woman in South Africa.”

Beside his stage comedies, Uys turned in 1981 to Barry Humphries-style solo shows. Among the most popular (and naughty) of these was “P.W. Botha: In His Own Words” (1988), in which the only material was Botha’s speeches and P.W. was skewered by his own ludicrous statements and Uys’ gift for mimicry. He has performed his one-man shows all over the world. Most of his South African revues are available on video and have been seen by the majority of the people of his land. They were also seen in prison by the present South African government!

Uys runs his own small cabaret theater on the former railway station in the village of Darling, 55 minutes from Cape Town up the West Coast. (See: http://www.evita.co.za.) The venue is famous as “Evita se Perron,” ‘perron’ being the Afrikaans word for “platform.

George Ferencz, Curator of the Experiments Series, is New York’s prime director of Uys’ plays, having staged “Panorama” and “Paradise’s Closing Down” for Africa Arts Theater Company in 1994 and 1996 respectively.

“Auditioning Angels” by Pieter-Dirk Uys will be performed Thursday, Oct. 25 at 7:30 pm; Friday, Oct. 26 at 7:30 pm; Saturday, Novn 3 at 7:30 pm and Sunday, Nov 4 at 2:00 pm. Tickets are $18 and $13 students/seniors. The box office is reachable at (212) 475-7710 and www.lamama.org.

For more information on other plays in the festival, see: http://www.lamama.org.

Jonathan Slaff
Jonathan Slaff writes on cultural events from the brainy, the edgy and the good. He helps us keep ahead of the curve in the world of the arts and culture.