Transcript: Connie Meng Review aired Tuesday, April 18, 2005
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Thembi Mtshali, actor. Photo: Ruphin Coudyzer.

A Woman in Waiting

National Arts Centre, Ottawa

A WOMAN IN WAITING is a one-woman play based on the life of the South African actress and singer Thembi Mtshali. It was written by Miss Mtshali and Director Yael Farber and is performed by Miss Mtshali. It depicts the struggle of growing up under the Apartheid system and the unique state of silent waiting imposed by that system on the women of South Africa. Miss Mtshali's story is told with wonderful creativity and insight and also great humor.

The opening scene of her birth is terrific - she rolls out of a large wooden box singing, then follows with the line, "I am cooked - I am ready." We begin to understand the title as we see her grow up with her grandparents in Zululand waiting for her mother to visit from Durban at Christmas, waiting to go to school till her arm is long enough to reach her ear, then in Durban waiting for her mother to come home from caring for someone else's children. Later her own child must wait at home while she cares for white children, and the cycle continues.

Regarding her mother, she expresses an idea that touched me deeply. "Comes a day we look in our mother's eyes and they have become human."

Miss Farber has staged the piece well and holds our attention by having the actress act out her life rather than narrate it. The representation of Mama is exceptionally clever.

Jo Arthur and Victor Masondo's sound design is very effective, particularly the opening. The lighting design, adapted for the NAC by Rebecca Miller, adds a great deal to the production.

As for Miss Mtshali, she has a smile that can embrace the world. She's a powerful singer who has performed with such luminaries as Dizzy Gillespie and Miriam Makeba and is also an award-winning actress who has appeared on Broadway and the West End and in numerous films and on television. It's a long way from the Soweto of her birth, but as she says, "There is nothing as rich as where you come from."

Since Miss Mtshali and Miss Farber have done so well with this script, let us hope they collaborate on either a sequel or a biography that would complete the life journey. The script refers to "...when I walk through the museum in me...", and I'd certainly be interested in seeing the rest of the museum.

On a scale of one to five the NAC/Farber Foundation production of A WOMAN IN WAITING gets four and three-fourths Royal Canadian Mounted Police. For North Country Public Radio I'm Connie Meng.

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