By BRUCE DENNILL
Tease! / Directed by Jose Domingos / Auto & General Theatre On The Square, Sandton, Johannesburg
Sexuality is massively complicated, convoluted issue that is tackled in a myriad ways in popular entertainment – usually via ideas that, through being superficial or too eagerly people-pleasing, ultimately leave observers none the wiser at best and more confused at worst.
Co-writers Vanessa Frost and Tumi Morake, sensitive and insightful comedic minds both, have – along with director Jose Domingos, who also has a writing credit – created something that is rather more meaningful and significant, as well as, in parts, screamingly funny.
First impressions are not ideal: there is a rhyming scheme to the lines (delivered to the audience as a part of the introduction of the cast of characters, all played by Frost and Morake, doing quick changes with minimal costume tweaks) that initially feels a little forced and cheesy. Later, it makes more sense, in terms of both flow and feel.
Part of that change in perspective is the result of getting to know the protagonists – Eva (Frost) and Neo (Morake), a couple of middle-class, middle-aged women who are co-owners of a hair salon named Tease!. They’re both having relationship issues of various types and severities, all of which are recognisable because they are sadly, poignantly real. Loneliness – a possibility regardless of marital or other relationship status – is a given a subtle starring role here, being the driving force behind the central narrative, which, handled with less depth, could easily have become tacky.
After veering out of their comfort zones and into an adult toy store after a tipsy night out together, Eva and Neo begin to understand the value of discovering – via healthy, enjoyable experimentation – what makes them happy in terms of their bodies, and how their needs can be met using the equipment they’ve discovered on their nocturnal recce. They also recognise that there is a potentially lucrative business opportunity in the situation, which will help them gain more financial freedom and security in relationship scenarios that aren’t necessarily going to sustainably offer either.
It’s a framework that offers endless opportunities for ribald humour – some of it edgy, some of it as full of wisdom as it is of wackiness, and some of it purely titillating. And Frost and Morake deliver their set-ups and punchlines with pace and precision, making for protracted periods of the play where it’s difficult to draw breath. During the performance under review, there was also some unscripted hilarity when a particularly, er, robust dildo insisted on coming loose from its moorings on a display board several times during the course of an interaction between the two actresses.
In the midst of all of the distracting visuals and the talk of sex and vaginas and orgasms, Frost gives an incredibly focused, expressive performance, adding superb timing and phrasing to sublime physical comedy. Morake’s stand-up chops are evident in her onstage confidence, though her feel for the more affecting, quieter scenes is just as impressive.
Tease! is bright and brash, but most memorably, it gives relationships and their intricacies the mature, meaningful respect they’re due, and for that reason, it becomes as important as it is entertaining.