As actor Souléymane Sy Savane (who you might have seen in Ramin Bahrani’s Goodbye Solo ) recently told Time Out New York : “Independence was going to be something so great, and then it comes, there’s no more of the white men, and things get worse. You’re losing a common enemy, and things kind of fall apart.” He was referring to the circumstances driving Groundswell, an intense political drama from South African playwright Ian Bruce which The New Group debuts tonight.
The plot is simple enough on the surface. An ex-cop and a gardener with big dreams of striking it rich, work and live at a beachfront lodge. The South African government has started selling off old diamond concessions to citizens foolish enough to invest their fortune in sloppy seconds. When a retired, wealthy businessman comes to stay at the lodge, the two men want to believe that they’ve found an investor/a golden ticket out of their working class lives. And then things get a little nutty.
As Bruce explained after the preview performance we saw, there’s a large, needy population in the new South Africa who isn’t being looked after and people do not trust their government. Everyone feels victimized, and in an awkward turn of events, no one feels as good as they thought they would in a post-apartheid society. “We have learned since then that the precious democracy and freedoms we fought for take great and sustained effort,” Bruce explains in his author’s note. “While most blacks and some whites maintain hope and sanity by remaining loyal to the older liberation structures or ideas, this loyalty is no longer a given. As it should, the political pressure is building around bread and butter, rather than ideological issues. For the very poor, which is the majority, the more that is offered, the more they become discontented about what they still lack. The majority of whites, saddled with the burden of guilt for the colonial past, whether acknowledged or denied, are not sure anymore how or where they belong.”
While the country he’s talking about might be different, the uncomfortable divisions which Groundswell puts real faces on will translate all too well for American audiences. Catch the play now through June 27 at The Acorn; click here to purchase tickets.
Photo credit: Monique Carboni