REVIEW: Itsoseng (Chicago Shakespeare)

Waiting for the change that never comes

 

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Chicago Shakespeare Theatre presents
  
Itsoseng
   
Written and performed by Omphile Molusi
Directed by
Tina Johnson
at
Chicago Shakespeare, Navy Pier (map)
through June 20  |  tickets: $28-$38  |  more info

Reviewed by Oliver Sava

At the end of apartheid, the South African township of Itsoseng found itself without a shopping center. The center had become the economic hub of the town, but having been built by a corrupt leader, was looted then burnt to the ground in an act of revolt. Surely the new government would reward their brave action? Ten years later, poverty and crime have skyrocketed, and there is still no shopping center. In his one man show Itsoseng, Omphile Molusi exposes how bureaucracy and politics have come to  stand in the way of aid to struggling South African villages. Molusi weaves a story of desperation and loss that transcends the continent gap as he chronicles the lives of ITSO_1those struggling to survive, taking the audience on a heartbreaking journey through a walking graveyard.

At its core, Itsoseng is a play about desperation. What a town desperate for change will do to join the revolution, the dark places people without hope will go to find sustenance. With only a garbage littered set and a trunk, Molusi creates his dreary village through skilled impressions, song, dance, and various languages, successfully constructing the illusion by his lonesome. Molusi never drops his energy throughout the 75-minute production, and what he lacks in clarity he makes up for in emotional intensity and dedication to his characters.

The early scenes are a bit difficult to follow as Molusi captures the unrestrained energy of youth with a little too much fervor, but as his character matures so does the storytelling. The narrative begins to take shape as Molusi discovers more social problems and political barriers, finally taking action himself to enact change. He is driven by the struggles of his neighbors, his childhood sweetheart that whores herself in taverns, the ex-revolutionary that sits stoned on the sidewalk, cursing his government. And while it all sounds quite dreary, Molusi is a charismatic performer with a natural humor that keeps the piece from being too heavy. The language of the play is a mix of blunt observation and poetic embellishment that shows Molusi is a talented playwright that can tow the line between fantastic escapism and gritty realism.

Itsoseng was a village that once had pride and hope in a future. The future is a fantasy unless the South African government takes active steps to repair the townships that it forgot in favor of the economically prosperous urban territories. In the aftermath of apartheid, South Africa has taken major steps towards improving the lives of its citizens, but Itsoseng shows just how far there is left to go.

   
   
Rating: ★★★
 
 

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