Theatre Review: The Undone – Roles And Reflections, Or An Homage To Heritage

June 29, 2023




The Undone / Directed by Alan Swerdlow / Theatre On The Square, Sandton, Johannesburg


This story was initially developed as part of an application to attend acting institutions in the United States, and that sense of writer and performer Serena Steinhauer being part of a bigger picture in both dramatic and cultural terms continues onstage.

Three characters (and a bit of Serena herself, with prepared dialogue) have scenes to themselves in this one-woman show, examining often quite complex challenges – around religion and how it is practised and received, around relationships, around gender roles and how they are and should be challenged – through a shared filter of being female and being Jewish, neither of which, tragically, allows for fair treatment, generally speaking.

Each vignette is detailed and thoughtfully paced, with dedicated rehearsal and good direction playing obvious roles in helping Steinhauer to incrementally develop these characters, showcasing their worldviews, intellects, habits and, ultimately, reasons for being part of a narrative designed to deliver the messages The Undone does.

It’s ballsy, elegant and lyrical stuff, telling stories that confront audiences with their own prejudices or perhaps with their unwillingness to get involved with such problems on anything more than a superficial level. This may have the effect of making the piece less than mainstream in marketing terms, but it should not be judged as less in any way because of that. Think of it this way: given a choice between an Instagram account that specialises in collecting pictures of celebrities in yoga pants or subscribing to a top newspaper that only offers long-form articles on serious topics. You know which would have more followers, and you know which would be more worthwhile – on every level. The Undone is very much in the latter class and succeeds because of it, if you’re happy to engage at the level at which its pitched.

Original incidental music by Bryan Schimmel helps to sustain such a mood of thoughtful interaction, having the feel of Jewish folk music and as such helping to highlight the role of tradition in all of Steinhauer’s characters’ stories – whether or not such established conventions help or hinder those whose lives are shaped by them.