A pervasive atmosphere of violence in society prevents us from engaging with each other as fellow human beings. Instead, constantly on guard with our desire to protect ourselves, our immediate family and property, we retreat into what is familiar, colouring ‘the other’ with our own – often unacknowledged – prejudices.
Race and religion are the dominant markers of ‘the other’, and both are addressed by Mike van Graan in his award-winning play Brothers in Blood, with religion being the dominant marker.
The three Abrahamic religions, with their age-old history of enmity, are put under the spotlight here as the vigilantism of People Against Drugs and Gangsterism (Pagad) which was believed to be responsible for spate of nightclub bombings in the ‘90s and the burning and shooting of suspected drug dealer Rashaad Staggie in Woodstock, Cape Town, provides the backdrop that erodes tolerance between religious communities in the city.
The lives of a secular Jewish doctor, a Muslim father, his daughter and her Somali Muslim boyfriend, and a Christian lay preacher intersect in this powerful drama, revealing that the difference between aggressor and victim is as impermanent as a line drawn on a Cape beach during a howling southeaster.
By revealing the hidden motives generated by personal tragedies, van Graan deftly shifts our sympathy from one character to the next, slicing away our own preconceptions until, by the final denouement, we embrace them all, simply because we’ve come to understand them.
However, I felt the play was too overt, and I am not sure whether my reservation in giving a standing ovation alongside most of the audience was due to Greg Homann’s directorial decisions or whether the fault lies in the scripting.
The initial introduction of the characters was particularly ‘staged’. As in ‘this is a stage and upon it you are now going to watch: a Muslim father, his Muslim daughter, a secular Jewish father…etc. a theatrical technique I’m not fond of, which for me was not a good start.
I got the impression that Brothers in Blood is more a newspaper article – albeit a very good one – than a poem. And, well, news articles don’t generally leave an aesthetic impression. They may be intriguing, entertaining, informative, funny, tragic, but it is their message, rather than their beauty, that remains after reading. I’m fussy. I like to receive both. — Steve Kretzmann