GROUNDSWELL > writ. Ian Bruce dir. Scott Elliott


June 20, 2009souleymane sy savane, ian bruce, groundswell, goodbye solo, south africa, apartheid
After a terrible day yesterday (due to the crashed hard drive and my inability to function at work), saw the play GROUNDSWELL at Theater Row starring Larry Bryggman, David Lansbury (pictured top left), and Cote d'Ivoirean Souleymane Sy Savane (top right). I had unreasonably high expectations given Sy Savane's brilliant debut work in GOODBYE, SOLO (at the Angelica, not sure how widespread its release was), in which he plays a Senegalese cab driver who befriends a lonely man looking to kill himself.

Watching him onscreen was like witnessing the birth of a star -- holding my breath and refusing to blink, wondering if acting could really be as easy as he made it seem, as though someone simply picked up a camera and captured real life unfolding. (Not to mention the guy I was dating at the time was Senegalese and it sort of felt like coming home.)

I had some issues with the film, namely I'm getting tired of seeing blacks, real or magical, portrayed as rescuing the humanity of white people. For goodness sake. Driving Miss Daisy, Reign on Me, The Legend of Bagger Vance, The Green Mile...I could go on, but suffice it to say writer/director Ramin Bahrani wasn't telling a new story. The extent to which critics embraced it could certainly have more to do with their subconscious minds than the film itself. Critics aside, though, the performances were solid. And I need to get back to the play.

GROUNDSWELL is set in post-apartheid South Africa, a fact which makes it singularly interesting as a piece of art. It weaves the stories of Themi (Sy Savane), a housekeeper whose family lives in a tin-roofed shack and father disappeared in a diamond mine; Johan (Lansbury), formerly of the secret police, who did three years jail time for mistakenly shooting a black man who pointed his finger at him in the dark; and Mr. Smith (Bryggman), a robber baron who made his fortune investing in diamond stocks, but was later pushed out of his job by a black "affirmative action" hire.

By the end of the play the stakes were raised so high that Johan jammed a knife in Mr. Smith's face demanding he pay "compensation" to Themi for his father's death and the sins of all white South Africans. The ride up until then started slow, but picked up quickly and held a 60mph pace right up until the end. We were forced to confront a lot of shit along the way, and I'm glad playwright Ian Bruce didn't try to tie up the loose ends.

Souleymane threw me at first -- his Xhosa a valiant effort, but the S. African accent nonexistent -- though I was able to suspend my disbelief and get lost in the story. I had mixed feelings about his performance, but I still see a bright future for him and, naively so, a unified South Africa.

My girls and I stood around chatting at the end of the show until he came out, and we had to tell him what a great job he did. He was the absolute sweetest guy ever, asking each of us our names and shaking our hands, asking if I was Nigerian, saying he was from the Ivory Coast. (I held his hand a little too long!) I gazed in his eyes and gushed about what a huge huge huge fan I am of his work, how I'm a filmmaker too, and how we should get married someday (the last part isn't true ;).

But I totally slept on my biz card game, would have whipped it out if I had had one to give and urged him to call, email, send a carrier pigeon. I am so stalking him online until I can find his info. He is FINE. I absolutely melted into a puddle of girliness when he walked away and floated all the way home. Smitten!

Check out my review on The AFRican.

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