by Sergei Burbank · August 26, 2015
Gys de Villiers | Anria Roux
FAFI is a coming-of-age tale. Solo performer Gys de Villiers narrates his navigation from childhood to adulthood while living as an Afrikaans man during the South African apartheid era. His character’s voice ranges between the fixed endpoint of an aged, world-weary narrator, and the developing perspective of his younger, more innocent self. The play runs through the decade between elementary school to de Villiers’ induction into the South African military. de Villiers describes a pleasant, almost idyllic, childhood. Part of a large family, his upbringing is largely the domain of his family’s domestic servant, and young de Villiers’ growing awareness of the nature of the apartheid regime emerges through his beloved family maid’s sometimes brutal experiences.
The fixed point of the work sounds like a Zen koan: an older man sits in his house, examining a spot on the wall. This is perhaps fitting, as those scenes are intermixed with vignettes from de Villiers’ childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood -- as well as commentaries from the I Ching. These disparate elements are neither jarring nor incongruent; like the narrator, the piece is an assemblage of experiences and inspirations in pursuit of balance. “Fafi” -- an illegal numbers game his maid plays -- provides a point of convergence: the young man’s dreams, decoded, provide the numbers she chooses to play. His guileless dreams also provide a means of expression for his growing-if-still-subconscious awareness that something is wrong in his homeland.
de Villiers inhabits other characters with elegance and economy; his body changes between that of an eager young boy and a dissolute old man convincingly, and with ease. His accomplished script (co-written by Jaci de Villiers, who also directs) succeeds in portraying a torn conscience: guilt at his (compelled) service as the spear’s point of the Apartheid regime in its army comingles with pride and love of his Afrikaans heritage.
Like the best politically inspired art, FAFI makes no attempt to artificially resolve its tensions: de Villiers is a member of the oppressive class, and an African; he is a celebrant of democracy, but not ignorant of the iniquities that have persisted even since free elections came to his country. Most importantly, he is a product not of one segment of South African society, but multiple sources: his maid’s ancestor-worship, his parents’ Christianity, his love of music, his pursuit of girls -- all of it ties him to his life and his land. de Villiers, like his home nation, is in need of healing, a need to be made whole; healing will not come quickly, nor easily, but one comes away from this powerful and well-done piece hopeful that it can come.