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January 19 – February 11, 2007
Diversionary Theatre will present the United States premiere of Happy Endings Are Extra, a startling new play by Ashraf Johaardien, as the fourth show of their 2006-2007 season. While the play is part of the mainstage season, it also kicks off Diversionary’s new “Queer Theatre – Taking Center Stage” program, which is funded in part by The James Irvine Foundation.
Happy Endings Are Extra, a lyrical and sensual exploration of sexual identity, is set against the backdrop of Cape Town’s unsleeping world of massage parlours, boys for rent and sex for cash. The play explores the relationship between Gabriel, a bisexual man, and Chantelle, his fiancee. Chantelle pretends to be unconcerned by Gabriel’s sexual interests, but then he meets Chris, an underage rent-boy and falls in love with him. This mature, considered play deftly toys with its audience, allowing the viewer to be both compromised and affected by the desires and the sharp, confounding shifts in perspective and emotion that the play evokes. The play contains adult situations and nudity.
The play was performed this past May at the Dublin Gay Theatre Festival. A review in The Irish Times stated “With just the flick of it’s title, Ashraf Johaardien’s oh-so-clever script funnels a Cape Town subculture of open relationships and rent-boys through the hideous fatalism of Greek Tragedy.
Wittily crafted, breezily allusive and handsomely performed, the play is considerably less concerned with sexual orientation than in updating our universal fables of desire and deception.”
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Johaardien, a South African playwright, has already established himself as an award-winning playwright. At the age of 32 he has five plays under his belt. He grew up in Cape Town but he now lives in Johannesburg where he is currently the General Manager of the Arts & Culture Trust (ACT). Thanks to the Irvine Foundation grant, he was present at the opening in San Diego.
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(In Alphabetical Order)
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Director: Rosina Reynolds.
HAPPY ENDINGS ARE EXTRA
San Diego Reader
Review by Jeff Smith
Published February 1, 2007
Happy Endings Are Extra, by Ashraf Johaardien
Diversionary Theatre, 4545 Park Boulevard, University Heights
Directed by Rosina Reynolds; cast: Claudio Raygoza, Anahid Shahrik, Michael Purvis; scenic design, Greg Stevens; costumes, Shulamit Nelson; lighting, Mia Bane Jacobs; sound, Rachel Le Vine
Playing through February 11; Thursday at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday at 8:00 p.m. Sunday at 7:00 p.m. Matinee Sunday at 2:00 p.m. 619-220-0097.
Gabriel and Chantelle have been affianced for a long time (too long, suggest some of their friends, who speculate about the delay). They have an “open relationship,” which means, in their case, Chantelle has remained sexually faithful to Gabriel, while he frequents the shadow world of Cape Town massage parlors where “happy endings” — i.e., having more than a rubdown — cost extra.
Gabriel says his dalliance is “just sex.” Though Chantelle urges him to do what he needs without telling her, she sees sex as an act of love and tries to repress feelings of betrayal when he’s gone who knows where. Then Chantelle begins to entertain fantasies. And Gabriel, who has been dispassionate about all his relations, makes a fatal mistake: he falls in obsessive love with teenage Chris, his favorite “rent boy.”
In Happy Endings Are Extra, Ashraf Johaardien explores psychological boundaries in post-apartheid, white South Africa. The play wants to be Harold Pinter-like: short, tersely written scenes, blackouts, the unspoken signifying volumes. But Johaardien writes like a novelist new to drama. His descriptions of scenes — how the moon hangs over Cape Town — are vivid. But his monologues overexplain the obvious (quoting his therapist, Chantelle says Gabriel “only has surface feelings,” for example, and we’ve already seen enough evidence without having to be told). And the dramatic confrontations slump from predictable dialogue.
When it looks at open relationships, and how some partners prefer a larger aperture than others, Happy Endings has interest (especially when Gabriel moves from open to closed and Chantelle from closed to open). As does the question of who’s in control, since all three engage in a subsurface tug of war. And at least two of them fear an ultimate loss of control.
When Happy Endings concludes with a surprise, boffo ending — call it reverse child abuse — the play leaps into melodrama, buoyed by Madame Butterfly’s Puccini-drenched hara kiri. The ending’s a kicker, but it raises nagging M. Butterfly questions about Gabriel’s inability to make connections or see what has slowly become obvious.
Happy Endings is part of Diversionary Theatre’s new play development series: “Queer Theatre — Taking Center Stage.” The production values are worthy of Pinter. Scenic designer Greg Stevens has created a fluid, permeable stage. A scrim and flowing curtains allow boundaries to dissolve and spaces to merge. Mia Bane Jacobs’s lighting follows suit: a penumbral world where shadows don’t quite conceal and indirect lighting doesn’t quite reveal.
Director Rosina Reynolds tries for nuance in a script weak on dramatic action. Characters either primp before a mirror or engage in foreplay on the couch, followed by the inevitable blackout. Not much to work with there, nor much to inhabit in the characters themselves. Claudio Raygoza does a fine, cold turn as Gabriel. Suggesting more emotional interiors than are in the writing, Raygoza teeters toward an explosion of repressed rage. Wearing Shulamit Nelson’s sleek dresses, Anahid Shahrik almost makes Chantelle more a presence than just the playwright’s unhappy pawn. Michael Purvis’s Chris could feel his vengeance more fully, even before it arrives.
Rachel Le Vine’s sound design merits special mention. Happy Endings aspires to opera and Greek tragedy. Whether subtle or blaring, Le Vine’s insistent sounds suggest those possibilities throughout.
By Anne Marie Welsh
THEATER CRITIC – San Diego Union-Tribune
January 22, 2007
Diversionary Theatre launched a laudable new program during the weekend with the American premiere of a bold – though ultimately, incoherent – play from South African writer Ashraf Johaardien.
“Happy Endings Are Extra” deploys three characters – a gay rent boy, his bisexual client, and a straight woman – in a doomed love triangle that seeks to resonate with echoes of Greek tragedy, or at least the sentimental tragedy of a Puccini opera.
Unfortunately, the Diversionary production, directed by Rosina Reynolds, often seems preposterous and pretentious, its most intense moments sometimes evoking laughter.
Johaardien’s characters suffer feelings of emptiness and alienation, their desires masked in deception. Like the Steve Martin antihero in “Shopgirl,” or the marginalized artists in Theresa Rebeck’s scalding comedy “The Scene,” the three people of “Happy Endings” engage in sex for reasons that have little to do with emotional – or even physical – satisfaction. They’re head cases, and mostly unsympathetic.
The script reads beautifully, though. Laced with throwaway witticisms, its language flows from lyrical description of nighttime Capetown, where secret desires hide in shadows, into realistic scenes of clipped, Pinteresque dialogue. Greg Stevens’ design at Diversionary follow suit – an elegant, if coldly minimal apartment with a chocolate-brown couch, Plexiglas chairs, and diaphanous beige curtains that veil portions of the action.
We first see Gabriel (Claudio Raygoza), an enigmatic middle-aged man who loves his longtime fiancee Chantelle (Anahid Shahrik) after a fashion. He’s bisexual and they have “an understanding.” She puts up with his occasional visits to massage parlors and coke-addicted rent boys until this cool, narcissistic and unappealing man begins falling in love with an underage prostitute, Chris (Michael Purvis).
At a sophisticated party, the Adonis-like Chris seduces much older Gabriel, a man of little affect, and, as Raygoza plays him, not much obvious sex appeal. Chantelle, always sensuous and low-key in the gifted San Diego newcomer Shahrik’s interpretation, retaliates by having an anonymous fling with a man she bumped up against on a train. The implausible situation sinks Chantelle deeper into masochism and Gabriel into obsession: they’re poison for one another, despite their protestations of “love.”
Johaardien depicts the empty materialism and quiet desperation of these passionless, urban characters. Avoiding loneliness seems to be the driving force in Chantelle. Being alone bring Chantelle and Gabriel face to face with meaninglessness, the void. During the show’s most effective scenes, director Reynolds and sound designer Rachel Le Vine sustain a steady, pulsing rhythm that creates a gathering sense of fatality. The forebodings engage our interest even when the characters don’t.
With its candor about self-deception, betrayal and kinky sex, “Happy Endings Are Extra” adventures into territory mainstream playwrights avoid. What distinguishes Johaardien’s play, however, aside from the better passages of poetic writing, is a shocking and original plot twist that forces the audience to re-evaluate what has come before, and to see beautiful, lost Chris as a more manipulative, despairing character than before. The final scenes in which primal taboos are violated and murderous violence ensues are melodramatic, and though too briskly staged, at least plausible.
A risky choice, “Happy Endings Are Extra” is the first entry in Diversionary’s new “Queer Theatre – Taking Center Stage” project. Designed to champion unheard voices representing gay, bisexual, lesbian and transgender experience, the project will involve staged readings of four more new plays over the next six weeks.
Playwright: Ashraf Johaardien. Director: Rosina Reynolds. Set: Greg Stevens. Lighting: Mia Bane Jacobs. Sound: Rachel Le Vine. Costumes: Shulamit Nelson. Cast: Claudio Raygoza, Anahid Shahrik, Michael Purvis.
Anne Marie Welsh: (619) 293-1265; firstname.lastname@example.org
Gay & Lesbian Times
Arts & Entertainment
January 25, 2007
by Jean Lowerison
You will not find a happy ending in South African playwright Ashraf Johaardien’s Happy Endings Are Extra, in its U.S. premiere run through Feb. 11 at Diversionary Theatre.
There’s not much in the way of happy middles, either, as Cape Town resident Gabriel (Claudio Raygoza) tries to juggle relationships with both his fiancee Chantelle (Anahid Sharik) and attractive but underage rent boy Chris (Michael Purvis).
Gabriel is putatively bisexual, but the fact that he and Chantelle have a long relationship that is only occasionally sexual raises a few questions: Is it merely his interest in kinky sex that drives Gabriel to rent boys, or is he in fact gay and unwilling to admit it? Why is Chantelle willing to settle for this relationship, so obviously unsatisfying to both?
It’s difficult to tell, and Johaardien doesn’t stop to explore the possibilities; he is intent on hurtling headlong to the shockingly tragic conclusion of this 70-minute piece.
Raygoza does a fine job of portraying Gabriel’s ambivalence and confusion, as well as the aching need for a man’s touch, or at any rate to touch a man. Sharik does the best one could with a part that makes her seem more like harpy than partner. But she looks marvelous in costume designer Shulamit Nelson’s designs. And Purvis, who gets to shed it all, looks great that way. But he could stand to project a bit better, especially in his final scene.
Johaardien has a poet’s turn of phrase (“Above the city of wonder a cat’s eye moon hangs high, watching secrets”) and a vivid facility for description. Much of Happy Endings consists of expository monologues, normally a risky choice but here written well enough to sustain interest. But this play could stand to be fleshed out a bit more.
I look forward to more work from this promising young (32-year-old) playwright.
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