COMEDY/DRAMA, CAPE TOWN: at Your Perfect Life at Alexander Bar, Café and Theatre, until October 26, 2019

Review: Your Perfect Life

Written and performed: Faeron Wheeler and Erika Marais

Director: Sue Diepeveen

Producer: FCreations
Duration: 50ish mins

Loved this sassy, smart, funny comedy-drama. It’s fun, insightful, stylish; written with a wry eye; railing against women as being put on earth simply as repositories of wombs- to bring children into this world. Who cares about their accomplishments; how many children do you have and if not, why not?

Yes, this show is on tonight – October 25 and tomorrow Oct 26. Hopefully there will be further runs and you will be able to see it. The production premiered earlier this year on the fringe at the National Arts Festival and received a coveted 2019 Standard Bank Ovation Award. After the festival, it was staged at The Drama Factory – which is headed up by Sue Diepeveen who is in the director’s seat for My Perfect Life.

I couldn’t make it to the Drama Factory and unfortunately this is a quickie season at Alexander. On the opening night at Alexander, the house was full. Interesting to listen to the foreign accents of theatregoers. Lots of tourists. Hopefully, Your Perfect Life will make a return. It’s complicated because Marais lives in Hong Kong. She is hoping to arrange a season of the play in HK. We will keep you posted.

The drama is set around a twenty year school reunion in which two friends re-connect. Once, they were besties. Karlien (Marais) fell pregnant and age 18, right out of school she dived into family life and subsequently popped out two more children. When she unites with her ex-bestie, Caitlyn (Wheeler), she is toting a baby schlep bag – unlike Caitlyn’s designer bag – and taking calls from her husband about how to medicate their four year old (yes, there were gasps from the audience at that one- poor woman).

Caitlyn and Karlien lost touch (the why is explored in the play). Karlien immersed herself in motherhood; didn’t study; embraced the whole mommy and kid’s trip. Caitlyn has the big corporate career; designer shoes, great haircut and bag. Karlien is dressed in what looks like an outfit purchased on sale from Truworths, accessorised with baby diaper bag. At the 20th reunion, it is a face-off between the two as the face the choices that they made and the travel plans not taken. Choice is a not a clear cut construct. Karlien had an unplanned pregnancy but ultimately she chose the path of motherhood. Caitlyn made her choices – catching curve balls that were thrown her way.

For me at the nub of this play, is the expectation that women must become mothers in order to –to be fulfilled. Who know: In order to satisfy people when they ask: “have you got children?” And if you say “no”; there is a “why not?” or “you will one day” or “you will regret it, you know”, or “I am sure you will change your mind”, or “better freeze your eggs before you are 30”. The clincher- “children bring so much to your life and fulfil you”. That’s a compilation of remarks I have heard being bandied about. I am the proud mom of two daughters but it has horrified me and continues to horrify me, how the baby question peeps through. The pressure is on young women, in their 20s and 30s. Add to that, women bragging about the number of grandchildren that their offspring have produced. Then they interrogate other women as why their offspring are not having babies. C’mon, an increasing number of millennials are CHOOSING not to have children. It’s an informed choice. Many people desperately want a child and cannot conceive and that is heart breaking. Many don’t have the financial support. I have witnessed much spirited discussion around the fact that millennials are choosing not to have kids and have been amazed at how incensed people are- that women would actually choose not to have a baby. It’s not just a career thing. I attended a large party and chated to two couples who have been together for 25 to 30 years. They elected not to have children. They don’t have high powered careers so it wasn’t a matter of juggling family and work. They just didn’t want to have kids. They wanted to travel and be active and have a good life. Another person joined in the chat; took great offence and suggested that it is a life without meaning, not to have children. How insulting! The no-kids-by choice couples told off the other person who was heckling them. They have time to do volunteering and community work and derive great satisfaction from a wide range of activities.

Your Perfect Life taps into an important discourse. We tend not to ask men if they have children but as the Caitlyn character muses, women are usually interrogated as to their child making status and if not, why not. In the play, there is a deft interrogation of who has the perfect life. Of course, no one has the perfect life. I liked the fact that they have made Karlien abstay at home mother. Besides from some blogging, she is not trying to have it all and juggle children and job. Again there is pressure women that they MUST work and rear children. Again, there is huge judgement on women to perform.

In the play, we have these two almost 40 women who are somewhat flummoxed at where they find themselves – looking back at how they were – at school – young, unencumbered by responsibilities- and disappointments.

“Middle-Aged Madness” – MAM – a “wrenching period of dashed expectations” is how Candace Bushnell “is terming the gamut of emotions as women survey their lives and think – how did I get here; could I, should I have made other choices and now what.” I am quoting from an article written by Gillam Tett in the Financial Times Weekend edition (October 19/20, 2019). In the column, she talks about Bushnell’s new book, Is There Still Sex in the City? Bushnell is famous for the book of columns, Sex in the City which led to the TV series of the same name.

MAM is exactly what we sense in Your Perfect Life as the two women audit their lives. Bushnell recently turned 60 and the characters in Your Perfect Life are on the cusp of 40. There are many possibilities at 40. Twenty years to go until 60. Caitlyn could still have a child (if she has eggs, opportunity, finance, health care) and wants to – but after schmoozing with Karlien, I don’t think so. Karlien is young enough to travel and detach from her brood. We are seeing them at a moment in which things could change – or not.

The script has been honed out of real-life experiences of Wheeler and Marais. They have drawn on their long friendship and their very different life-style choices. Marais had her first child, age 19 – straight after leaving school. She had two more. Two are in their twenties. The youngest is 13– not the four year old of her character Karlien. Unlike Karlien, she did study after school. She studied drama and is currently doing an degree through UNISA (psychology so that she can do drama therapy). She lives in Hong Kong with her pilot husband. Wheeler is single; no kids. Unlike Caitlyn, she doesn’t live with her dad. They have conjured characters. It is not them on stage but they have shaped the text with images from their very different lives and from observing others in their orbit.

The last word from director, Sue Diepeveen on bringing this new script to life on stage and working with performer/writers: “They are not precious about the script and were completely open to having it ripped apart…We worked quite hard to get their specific message across but we also wanted to have fun. They were open to try things and explore and develop the script on the hop…I was quite inspired to push the envelope a little bit also wanted to keep to their authenticity… I think every woman alive can relate to this play. What I really wanted to avoid was being too neat and I think their vulnerability helped no end. I am beyond grateful to have had their trust and love with this piece … their lack of ego made this the nicest way to pass time. We were all on the same page In terms of budgeting a moveable piece and I think we have something lovely that can travel easily so all in all we accomplished our goals. While they are fab actors I must also just say that Faeron is an amazing producer… if I had cash to give her a full time job I would do it in a heartbeat.”

When: 24-26 October, 2019

Where: Alexander Bar, Café & Theatre, Cape Town