Last night in Montreal I went to Molora, the play adapted and directed from the ancient Oresteia tragedy by South African Yael Farber (who now lives in Montreal). Through the telling of a family tragedy of death, violence, despair and loss, Molora (means “ash” in Sesotho) excavates the ruins of a broken humanity, viscerally pushing the players and the audience toward reconciliation and away from the more immediately-gratifying spoils of revenge. Past crimes—no matter how heinous—must be forgiven so that society and indeed families, may move on into a future that is marked by compassion and love for each other, not hatred and violence. It is a powerful performance that takes the Greek tragedy text implanted into the context of post-apartheid South Africa, told through the agonizing distortions of a dysfunctional family falling into the abyss of cyclic violence.
The play is a confrontational piece and at least twice I felt my body trying to remove me from my seat so that I could go help Elektra, played by Jabulile Tshabalala, who has violence done to her so realistically I actually feared for her safety. The perpetrator of the violence is played in the conspicuously symbolic white skin of the amazingly talented Dorothy Ann Gould whose Klytemnestra is the wicked mother who tortures her daughter with cigarettes, near-drownings and suffocations in attempts to extract information from her as to the family’s only son’s whereabouts.
The Greek Chorus, that is the witnesses to the events, is performed magnificently by The Ngqoko Cultural Group, from the town of Lady Frere, a group of blanket-wrapped foot-shuffling throat-singing elders who add indigenous South African Music that brings to life the traditions of the Xhosa communities.
Molora stirs the soul in uncomfortable ways. While physically detached in the audience, emotional connections entangle all the witnesses to tragedy, implicating anyone with a pulse. Through agonizing screams, cathartic physical release, music, and the violent reckoning of a culture confronting its horrific past, the struggle to forgive and the certitude to renounce revenge rein in on the stage as ash falls gently on the players in the end, signalling not a time to forget but indeed to remember as we all move toward forgiveness.
Melora plays at Place des Arts in Montreal until February 1, 2009.