Review: Louis Viljoen’s psycho-sexual thriller Grass Widow, machinations into minds realities and delusions, premiere season of new play by award winning South African playwright

Grass Widow- written and directed by Louis Viljoen

Where: Baxter Masambe Theatre
When: January 31 to February 11, 2023 and carries
Starring: Emma Kotze
Production design: Kieran McGregor
Age restriction: No 18s
Bookings: Webtickets

Grass Widow, a psycho-sexual thriller, by award winning playwright, Louis Viljoen, starring Emma Kotze, is on until February 11, 2023 in the Baxter’s Masambe Theatre. As Viljoen puts it, the play “delves into the life of one woman, the relationships that shape her and the lengths to which she will go to exact revenge on those that have the misfortune of crossing her. What emerges is a diabolical story told from multiple perspectives of someone with an affinity for revenge.” This intriguing new play, had me reeling from the ramifications, spewed out in-stage by the complex protagonist.

My plus one and I had a spirited discussion about the unreliable narrator and her story. It got us thinking in many directions. The poster depicts a Janus face figure and we were not sure how much of what happened; actually happened or whether it was a fantasy or part of the delusions of a split person. The concept of a Grass Widow as I understand it, a woman who has been discarded by a man who has wronged her and in the abandonment, she remains tethered to him, unable to continue. The title pinged fort me in reaction to the Jewish context of a Grass Widow. In Rabbinical law, the Grass Widow, is termed Agunot (a chained woman, woman in chains). She is abandoned by her husband, unable to re-marry. Without proof of his demise (death) or that he has given his ‘permission’ to end the relationship, she is chained to the man, shunned by society. In Viljoen’s Grass Widow, the protagonist, has her revenge against the “casual cruelty” by the men in her life. Or does she?

Some women are locked in, into society conventions and expectations, scorned and humiliated. Within certain sectors, there is no escape, zilch chance of breaking free – in the physical world. Sometimes, death is the only way out and in Grass Widow, the woman supposedly gets her revenge. Perhaps, it is all in her mind as she paces a windowless room, which only has a skylight as a source of light. I loved the set and lighting [production design by Kieran McGregor]. It is a liminal space. Is it a grave, sunroom, spa, prison, vault, home? Is it real or is it a figment of imagination?

A beguiling performance by Emma Kotze, coupled with signature crackling dialogue by Viljoen who relishes licking his way through graphic descriptions of sex, defecation and bodily functions. The Grass Widow is a smart, sophisticated play, with an unforgettable protagonist on the path of revenge and/or redemption. They are all connected, aren’t they? I loved the intensity and immersive escapism of the grass widow as she prowls her lair; the machinations into minds realities and delusions. It is a play which entertains, as it splays out a myriad of questions: The ties of bondage, that keep us tethered to “casual cruelties” and how some people may seek a revenge narrative and others may be chained forever, in an windowless room, with the mind only as an escape. I enjoyed this play immensely – creepy and immersive.

✳Featured image of Emma Kotze. Pic: Claude Barnardo. Supplied.