‘The Eulogists’ on its last legs

‘The Eulogists’ on its last legs

The Fugard Theatre has announced that ‘The Eulogists’, the latest work from award winning playwright Louis Viljoen, must close on June 24, so if you like your political commentary with plenty of spice, you have little more than a week before the run is over.

Like perhaps no other playwright since Mike van Graan, Louis Viljoen has his brand locked down, with a similarly recognisable style that extends to his titles, which at this point are beginning to sound like self parody. He shares another stylistic trait with Van Graan: it can be similarly difficult at times to differentiate between his characters. They almost always sound too similar, as if they were the direct mouthpieces of their author, rather than fully fledged creations that stand on their own within the fabric of the play. ‘The Eulogists’ tries to remedy this to an extent, but Viljoen still has a ways to go in this regard.

The play amongst Viljoen’s recent output has the distinction of running for longer than 50 minutes. It is for sure his most significant work since ‘The Pervert Laura’, but I would add that it’s also his most elegant. There’s a real pace to ‘The Eulogists’ that gets one fully invested in its narrative of a country on edge; one that is about to lose perhaps its only unifying icon. Yet, the rot had set in long ago and certain people are incredibly uncomfortable with the prospect of their saint of national unity not being all he has been built up to be.

Viljoen loves nothing so much as to desecrate our tightly held political and personal myths. It’s as if he is screaming at all times, “Let’s be honest about ourselves!” Only then can we walk the path of true healing and begin to build a lasting foundation, I would argue is his chief concern. When he’s at his frothing best, like in ‘The Frontiersmen’, there are few who are as dizzyingly entertaining, but also demoralising. I appreciate this more tempered version of the playwright who says, “The truth isn’t something to fear. Let’s deal with it and let the real work finally commence.”

Viljoen is served marvellously by his long-term collaborator, director Greg Karvellas, who has progressed in leaps and bounds as a storyteller in what feels like a very short time; and Emily Child, his muse, who is once again sublime in a heartbreakingly tender performance, one in which she personifies an entire nation’s crushed ideals.

* Book at Computicket.