"A Portuguese man, to the people of South Africa, is like a grizzly bear: hairy, growls and eats fish." - Nelson de Gouveia, after watching Sonia Esgueira
Yes, that quote up there is mine, I'm a comedian and I'm Portuguese. I'm also a man living in a woman's world, if Sonia Esguiera's new one-woman play, "So...You Think You Can Love" is anything to go by. And it's hard to write this review objectively with my own credentials as they are, but thankfully there's no negative aspects to find in this one-hour circus; she's worked hard and the results are, well..."she's a good" as my father would say.
Crying in a line-up photo embraces her poster like a disgraced mom wishing her kids didn't see it soon enough, but the content by which Sonia explains the dating life she leads is anything but shameful. Ruthless in her quest to be affirmed as a woman in a game full of complicated rules, this brilliant actress takes rudimentary clichés, mixes it up in a cuscuz pot, hands it over to five nattering aunts and cousins to spend an afternoon together gossiping about someone's penis length well into obscurity, and returns with a cacophony of charm and delight.
Not to spoil the content away too much, her humble beginnings looking for love in a speed-dating night exudes desperation, frightening off would-be conveyor-belt suitors like they were just browsing for underwear, and what follows is a journey into a melodramatic dichotomy, searching for love but finding it terribly frustrating. Each segment is represented by a separate personality or a character she's met in her travels, but in pleasant terms she plays them so well you forget she's a South African-born Portuguese actress just working hard to be famous, and instead with extremely gifted talent switches from a rapariga trying hard to fall pregnant with the RIGHT man, to an asthmatic restaurateur from a suspiciously CLOSE family origin to my own, of which I'm sure is the case as my hand still smarts from weddings and funerals shaking hands as a child with burly men such as the one she describes.
Each segment is pure and well-produced, utilising the Artscape's theatre credentials with great aplomb as well-placed music segues from one character to the next. Her Austin Powers-style heart-shaped bed is well-placed in the centre and hides all of the subtle costume changes and, as she plays herself running in the gym on top of it, I dare to believe it's a metaphor for our own experiences in the magic that is heartbreak. And the finale is well orchestrated, leaving every woman with a hand on her heart, feeling the same pain this misguided young woman with a over-bearing mother and a gaggle of useless Sandton-style friends she had to endure.
Ultimately though, the heartbreak is what is at the core of this fine auteur's magnificently scripted play; the ups and downs of dating is brought forth with a gifted measure of comical effect that we're left wondering if the pay-off is truly all that bad, as I heartily recommend this one-woman extravaganza to everyone left thinking whether theirs is the only pain left in the whole world.
Sonia Esgueira - So...You Think You Can Love? ran until the 30th March 2013.