Elections & Erections
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
May 5, 2008
Elections & Erections is a benefit for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, at La MaMa for three nights only (and as I write this, you've already missed the first one). It's a great cause, and a great show; it's one of those win-win situations where no matter why you've come to see it, you will be a better person for having done so.
The writer/performer of Elections & Erections is South African actor/activist Pieter-Dirk Uys (that last name is pronounced "Ace"). He was last in NYC (also at La MaMa) back in 2004, which is where I discovered him. He's a huge star in South Africa but not so well known here in America; his is a mammoth talent, and he has a heart to match. He genuinely cares about the subjects he talks about: principally, the devastation that AIDS is wreaking on his homeland and on the rest of Africa, and the myriad social/political/economic tribulations of South Africa and, too, of America and the world. Uys is a humanist performer who uses satire to teach us what we either should know but don't, or do know but forgot.
The content of the show is often devastatingly and/or outrageously funny. He portrays a variety of characters in the course of the evening, including some real people he actually knows (Bishop Desmond Tutu, whom he reveres even as he gently pokes fun at him; both Nelson and Winnie Mandela) and made-up characters who have become iconic, including his most famous creation, Evita Bezuidenhout, an outspoken white South African woman who was once the poster girl for Apartheid but is now throwing herself wholeheartedly into the cause of Reconciliation. (She's also running for President of South Africa in 2009; Uys tells us that just because she's not real doesn't mean she doesn't exist.)
He also talks about himself, as an artist whose work often threatens to bite the hand of a government that, at least in the days of Mandela's rule, feted if not fed him; and about what it meant to be a gay white man attracted to black men in South Africa in the 1960s, when both gay sex and interracial sex were illegal. His tale of a furtive one-night stand with a gardener in his shed is remarkably affecting.
But important as what Uys has to say always is, for me it is his consummate skill as a theatre artist that proves most impressive about Elections & Erections (I felt this way about his last show, Foreign Aids, as well). Uys is a drag artist who dons and removes his drag in front of us, stripping away the artifice very publicly to remind us of the core truths underneath each performance. It's mesmerizing to watch him transform himself from a decidedly unglamorous middle-aged man in black shirt and pants to a dazzlingly glamorous middle-aged woman, merely with the addition of some makeup, a wig, shoes, and a few accessories. It's not just that he looks different—he really seems to become someone else. Even a very broad caricature of Mother Theresa in heaven is realized as a fully fleshed-out (albeit deceased) woman who is nothing like anybody else she shares the stage with in this one-man show.
The paradox of this ordinary-looking man switching into a host of extraordinary larger-than-life characters parallels the effect of Uys's show on an audience, which is to make us laugh uproariously one moment and then come up short in the very next moment as we grasp the enormous ease with which humans can be corrupted, can be unjust.
For its artistry and its significance—not to mention the worthy cause benefiting from the proceeds of this particular engagement—Elections & Erections deserves your attention. I only wish Uys were keeping it here in New York for a longer time.