By BRUCE DENNILL
Call Us Crazy / Directed by Josias Dos Moleele / Auto & General Theatre On The Square, Sandton, Johannesburg
The blurb for this comedy three-hander sound dubious, outlining the story of a road construction worker named Oompie (Sello Sebotsane) who wants to “tar all the roads in the world” and who, to that end, opens his own construction company. Frankly, that sounds like a precis of the sort of PC documentary that makes people grumpy about paying TV licences to the SABC.
To the credit of the unflaggingly energetic cast, however, the piece not only works, but is often genuinely funny. The action is split into a number of skit-like sets, where the cast – mostly Sebotsane and writer-director Josias Dos Moleele, who have fantastic chemistry; with Marietjie Bothma adding a different energy with regular smaller additions to the narrative.
It’s a familiar story in South African terms, for both better and worse. In a negative sense, it includes references to the sadly predictable breakdown so common in local business and political circles – a good idea backed by altruistic intentions ultimately ruined by greed and corruption. In a positive sense, it shows off the resourcefulness, cheerfulness and loyalty that many South Africans have and which helps us all to get through tough periods.
Segments of the play are separated by musical interludes in which the cast sing and dance before going back to the arc of whichever character they’re inhabiting at the time. Sebotsane plays only a single role as Oompie, though that character has a number has a number of incarnations, from sweet naif to avaricious corporate man. Bothma often pops up as a newsreader, journalist or presenter, functioning as a sort of narrator linking different parts of the story. But it is Dos Moleele who steals just about every scene he’s in courtesy of a chameleonic ability to adopt the physical and vocal tics of a number of eccentrics – some of them amusingly recognisable as local media personalities.
In terms of structure – there is also audience interaction, both scheduled and otherwise – and a level of low-intensity chaos that only dips intermittently, Call Us Crazy seems accurately named, and the work initially takes some getting used to for audiences more used to conventional straight theatre. But it works, and it works well. You’ll laugh, long and often, even when the gags deal with topics covered often and extensively before, and are likely to leave the theatre feeling more optimistic than when you arrived.