why do moths fly like crazy f*@#ks in the night?

When and where: August 3 – 26, 2023,  in the Baxter’s Masambe Theatre at 7.30pm, with matinees on Saturdays at 3pm 
Writer/performer: Sue Pam-Grant
Director: Fred Abrahamse
Tickets: R150 – R220
Bookings: Webtickets https://www.webtickets.co.za/v2/event.aspx?itemid=1529988221
Producer: Abrahamse & Meyer Productions  

Sue Pam-Grant [SPG] who lives in Cape Town, has written and performs/paints in her fierce, passionate and fiery, new solo theatre show, why do moths fly like crazy f*@#ks in the night? It is an operatic bricolage and not like anything that I have experienced in a theatre context- mesmerising and intriguing. The play is SPG’s “(re) imagined Portrait” of the art, creative process and life of French American artist, Louise Bourgeois [1911-2010]. Her art was hewn out of her life – pain, anxiety, terrors; working as a woman artist in a male dominated, patriarchal art world. Louise B had a heightened sense of abandonment in childhood and complex daddy issues. In why do moths fly like crazy f*@#ks in the night?, the theatre is a studio. SPG talks and paints; rendering and conjuring up the portrait of ‘The Artist’- on the stage. We are taken through life-lines of Louise B’s life and art – for instance her narcissistic father who wanted her to work in the family tapestry business and her determination to follow her own path and create a geometry of lived experience and balance the “paradox of the spiral” in her art and life. Spiralling out – or in – control?

There are seminal quotes by Louise B, such as: ”I do. I undo. I remake”. The importance of repetition in her creative process is a leitmotief. Extensive reference is made to her preoccupation with Freudian psychoanalysis and working through her anxieties, sense of hysteria, demons, memories, and conflicts. From the early 1950s until the mid-1980’s, Louise B documented her experiences – of going through analysis -and she distilled her impressions in her art: “Pleasure cannot exist without pain… Light needs dark.”

So, there is a lot of Louise Bourgeois in why do moths fly like crazy f*@#ks in the night? but buttressed with that is the persona of the fictional character, The Artist, who is on stage, talking to us. The Artist is circling and spiralling around Louise B. The Artist is performed by SPG – an acclaimed visual artist in her own right- in ‘real life’. This is not an actress playing and artist. SPG is also an acclaimed actress. She wowed audiences in Cape Town in December 2023, when she revived her iconic play, Curl Up & Dye and she gave a knockout performance as Mrs Dubois.

Although SPG does not reference her own creative process and life experiences in why do moths fly like crazy f*@#ks in the night?, one gets a visceral and profound sense of her own complexities, dualities, anxieties, grief; passion for her art and her deep affinity with Louise B. In the artist’s note accompanying the show, SPG, talks about the influence of Louise B on her work: “Her work and life story have not only influenced my thinking and my interdisciplinary art making practice but have played a deeply profound and integral role in shaping and forming of my artistic agency, provocations and conversations as a woman artist with the a ‘desire’ to be ever present and ‘alive’ in the world today”.

In the artist’s note/programme SPG is described  as a transdisciplinary artist and why do moths fly like crazy f*@#ks in the night? evokes a potent and vital alchemy- the intersection of theatre, writing, visual art and performance – on stage. Thrilling to experience.

The writing is beautiful – tender and moving. SPG threads together the narrative of The Artist -circling Louise B. The drawings, paintings, squiggles, notes of SPG, are on the walls and are wrapped around The Artist. Words, quotes, images on the walls, ping off the spoken word as The Artist pulls us into her story. It makes for an immersive theatre. I won’t production spoil – but the immersion begins when one enters the theatre and makes the journey into the studio in the theatre- the sanctuary which The Artist has created. When entering, we hear a recording of Maria Callas singing Visi d’arte from Puccini’s Tosca. ‘Vissi d’arte’ (‘I lived for art’), is the aria sung by Tosca during Act II when she ponders her fate – she feels abandoned- and a lot more I won’t go into. The opera deals with passion, torture, murder, and suicide. In why do moths fly like crazy f*@#ks in the night?, along comes The Artist who has lived for art and her struggles – and here she is with her story.

There is a red noose hanging from the ceiling of the studio space. We can see that this is the night that The Artist will take her leave of this life. We watch her on this last night as she still must deal with the fact that she cannot get the standing fan to operate in the stifling heat of New York- far away her birth country in France. There is a intense sense of her ‘foreignness; and outsider status in her adopted country of America. The fan and the plug are like protagonists in this play- male versus female –a lot for analysts to mull over and analyse- watch and see.

The studio space is like a shrine, a womb: Red splashes of paint in the white space of the theatre with flashes of green (crème soda kist under the table) and the drawings and paintings. It is the sacred space of geometry, playground and ultimately place where the spiral of life and creation will end. The Artist is making that decision as part of her lived experience to exit. By the way. Louise Bourgeois died of heart failure in May, 2010 at the age of 98. The play is a portrait – an impression of Louise Bourgeois- not a biography.

SPG – the actor – is magnificent as The Artist – Parisian chic in men’s black leather brogues and red socks and smock, precisely plucked eyebrows (reminiscent of Edith Piaf). The accent and persona is beguiling as The Artist who is not to be messed with as she pledges her testimony in this last night. As to the “moths” in the title, SPG reflects in her artist’s note that the genesis of the play goes back to “the night visitation from a dark fluttering moth episode”, early this year [2023]. The “psychotic moth” led her to investigate “mad moth behaviours”. Many of us can relate – creative juices running amok at midnight. The night is never ending and there are flapping moths, buzzing mozzies, chirping crickets, traffic, and sirens- whatever. The night terrors drive one crazy. Sleep evades and then finally the light of the day breaks through – ahh- the relief. In previous research on textiles in visual art, I had come across a quote by Louise B about moths eating clothes of one’s youth- clothes which were once beautiful – and the fabric of life shredded like shrouds: “The beautiful clothes from your youth – so what – sacrifice / them, eaten by the moths”. She made this remark, in 1995, when she was in her 80s. To be clear, SPG did not reference this quote in writing this play but the quote resonated with me, when watching this play – fabric, fabrication of art, life; threads of memory; how we process and make sense of it all- or not.

Bravo to Fred Abrahamse and Marcel Meyer of A&M Productions in Cape Town, for producing why do moths fly like crazy f*@#ks in the night? and for Abrahamse’s role as director and Meyer’s eye in the design and staging. They have been part of the essential journey of taking a concept/image – a moth driving SPG crazy – to a play – which meshes visual art, theatre, psychoanalysis, desire, sex, passion and which also is an important tribute to Louise Bourgeois. This is a proudly South African play/art piece and I hope that it gets seen by audiences, out of Africa.

Spiral of creativity:

Sue Pam-Grant in why do moths fly like crazy f*@#ks in the night? premiere season, August 3 – 26, 2023, in Cape Town, Baxter Theatre’s Masambe. Photo: Fiona MacPherson. Related coverage on the TCR: https://thecaperobyn.co.za/preview-world-premiere-of-sue-pam-grants-moths-play-a-portrait-of-a-woman-as-artist/