Sylvaine Strike back at the Baxter helming a Sam Shepard play

Sylvaine Strike back at the Baxter helming a Sam Shepard play

Pulitzer prize-winning American playwright and actor Sam Shepard’s family drama, ‘Curse of the Starving Class’, directed by Sylvaine Strike and starring an impressive cast, will be showing at the Baxter Flipside stage for a limited season, from October 15 to 27, at 7.30pm.

This collaboration between the Baxter Theatre Centre and the University of Stellenbosch Woordfees (US Woordfees), sees the return of the multi-award-winning director to the Baxter, following the sold-out success of ‘Endgame’ recently. She heads up a sterling cast led by Neil McCarthy, Leila Henriques, Rob van Vuuren, Anthony Coleman, Roberto Pombo, Inge Crafford-Lazarus and Damon Berry.

Johannesburg-based Strike has become widely respected as a leading director in South African theatre for her fine work that has won her many accolades. At the Baxter alone over the years she has directed ‘Endgame’, Moliere’s ‘Tartuffe’ and ‘The Miser’, ‘Tobacco, and the Harmful Effects Thereof’, ‘The Travellers’ and ‘Black and Blue’.

“I have been burning to stage this play for the last decade,” says Strike. “The death of Sam Shepard last year made me reflect on the importance of his work. My vision for the staging of the play, a year after his death and 40 years after he first penned it, was to keep it simple, to honour his story and therefore keep it set in America, with the wild, large, desolate and universal characters he created. Their demands to succeed, to transcend, to become better, dream bigger, leave and re-invent themselves elsewhere, is just as much our reality as it is any struggling American’s. Now, more than ever, it is starkly and frighteningly relevant.”

She continues: “Shepard’s plays are almost always about identity, often suggesting that land defines where it is we come from and who we are. We are a product of our ancestors, ‘it’s in the blood’, if you like. Capitalist schemes – from small family loans, to dodgy investments – continue to fool the desperate. Today’s America is still acutely reflected in this piece, yet its themes contain a common human experience. However, and sadly so, it is no longer just the American dream that is shattered – it’s also the global dream that has been smashed.”

Regarded as one of America’s most celebrated dramatists, Shepard, who died in July last year aged 73, wrote nearly 50 plays with contemporary classics ‘Buried Child’, ‘Simpatico’, ‘A Lie of the Mind’ and ‘Cowboy Mouth’ just being some of them. He received ten OBIE Awards for his writing and directing, reportedly the most ever given to any writer or director.

‘Curse of the Starving Class’ is the first of Shepard’s family tragedies, balancing dark comedy and biting satire.

Set on an avocado and sheep farm in Southern California, the Tate family is headed up by a drunken father, Weston (performed by McCarthy); a burnt-out mother, Ella (played by Henriques); a rebellious adolescent daughter, Emma (Crafford-Lazarus) and a broken, but idealistic son, Wesley (Roberto Pombo). Each is entrenched in their own futile search for freedom, security and ultimate meaning in their lives. They seem to have become victims of a pathological carelessness, which permeates their DNA, their every move. They live their lives with a reckless abandon that is indicative of having nothing left to lose.

The outside world, in the form of a creepy lawyer, Taylor; a nightclub owner, Ellis; and 2 weird hit men (played by van Vuuren, Coleman and Berry) bleeds into the family home, through the broken door, but Weston as the head of the family, fails to protect his brood from conmen and predators.

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