DIANE DE BEER
FROM KOE’SIESTES TO KNEIDLACH
WRITER/PERFORMER: Chantal Stanfield
DIRECTOR: Megan Furniss
VENUE: Sandton’s Auto and General Theatre on the Square
DATES: Until June 23
When actress Chantal Stanfield asks someone about a word a family member of her soon-to-be Jewish husband used in her presence and she discovers it is derogatory on par with the K- or N-word, she is devastated knowing that it isn’t something she can just let go. She would have to tackle it head-on. But how? Well, by slipping it into a play naturally. Checkmate!
This is why it is such a savvy piece of writing. The above is the only section where she really goes quiet and addresses the elephant in the room in serious fashion, but then she flips it to the bright side with her winning solution to a devastating dilemma. That’s how she approaches her marriage, that of a Coloured woman (“some are comfortable with the word and others not,” is how she deals with that) with a Jewish man.
Everything has a context and when she deals with this particular cultural clash we know it is loaded on many levels – one could say in today’s world but really, it seems to get worse by the day looking forwards and backwards. What she has done though is found a young man with a sweetly suburban family where the happiness of the individual is the most important driving force. Ditto for her Cape Flats family. That is rare – sadly. Usually families are much more intent on cultural homogeny and protecting their purity from outside influences rather than individual happiness.
She dives right into the religious aspects of the relationship as she joins her new boyfriend and his family for Shabbat, a Friday evening meal that begins with a blessing called kiddush followed by another blessing recited over two loaves of challah.
And while those in the auditorium obviously au fait with these cultures on both sides are collapsing all around, what she is dealing with and sharing is both funny – and not. But again, she has found a way to put it out there while being entertaining and allowing people to face their fears, laugh out loud and then discover what we’re doing to one another. She goes on hilarious rants pointing to all the humiliation dumped on her by yet another family member or friend from her soon-to-become relations who congratulates her on her well-spoken English and comments from within her own community that with this union, at least her children have a chance of better hair!
Stanfield is both smart and talented. She plays with accents, languages, hairstyles, how to dress when and introducing friends to family. All of this is set to a musical soundtrack which is also clever because her other half is musician RJ Benjamin. They met because she was listening to his music while working in Turkey and started tweeting him which started the ball rolling – big time. That’s where the story begins, and the actress has found a way to delve into her life which affects so many people, while others can listen and learn.
While it deals with the world’s most single-minded problem, racism, something few want to grapple with, she has turned it into entertainment, making light of her love entanglement yet never diminishing the disastrous effects of racism on individuals. Her show invites people to listen and participate in a way that few of these discussions would.
Solo shows are tough to do. Not only are you the only one on stage, but when it is your story, the vulnerability issues are vast. But Stanfield has turned all of these to her advantage. Because she tells a story that is heartfelt and obviously hers, she makes no bones about that, it works. She delivers with ease on every level and ticks all the boxes with authenticity and honesty ahead in the race.
She has a smart director which you need in this instance when flying solo with your own story, and one who understands the world she is navigating. All of these combine to produce comedy with a conscience which is probably the best way to deal with issues that have been around forever yet desperately need to be dealt with – constantly.