This is a rich, deep tale of several lives gone wrong, all woven together to culminate in one man standing forlornly with only a beer and his memories. By LESLEY STONES.
It has been a long time since I saw Elvis. Maybe a decade ago in downtown Joburg somewhere. I mean the play, not the man, obviously, because we all know Elvis died long ago, and there is no point hanging around under a lamppost waiting for him to reappear. Unless you’re suffering the same despair, disillusionment and disappointment with life in general and yourself in particular as the central character in The Return of Elvis du Pisanie.
This one-man play written by Paul Slabolepszy is one part comedy and two parts tragedy, which is a fair reflection of life itself sometimes. It was first performed by Slabolepszy in 1992 and won a slew of awards. I remember it being a real theatrical treat when I saw it a few years later. Now it is back with Lionel Newton as Eddie, the worn-down and just fired salesman looking back over his life and wondering whether to end it all.
It is an intense play and perfect for Newton, who looks unhealthy thin, and sporting a dreadful hairstyle that make him look exactly the sort of guy who you would want to fire from your company too. He is brilliant at the physical and facial moves that show us the soul of Eddie, as he stands under the lamppost explaining how he got there.
It’s a simple set with great lighting, a couple of plastic crates, a carton of beer and Newton, helping us to use our imaginations to picture everything else that has come and gone around him. We watch him on stage trying to mimic Elvis in a talent contest, we see the young boy beguiled by the bobbing ponytail worn by his first love. We see his timid mother and damaged father, suffering post-traumatic stress disorder. We slowly see how it all converges into a tragedy that meant young Eddie would never be a trouble-free soul again. It is a rich, deep tale of several lives gone wrong, all woven together to culminate in one man standing forlornly with only a beer and his memories.
The play does feel a little dated now, since Elvis is so long gone, but it highlights the still fine writing of Slabolepszy, and his disconcerting honesty as he exposes the layers of experience and interactions that make us what we are. Newton, under the sharp guidance of director Andre Odendaal, will make you laugh and break your heart. DM
The Return of Elvis du Pisanie runs at the Market Theatre until December 13.
Photos: Suzy Bernstein