I saw this work in Grahamstown. I wanted to see it again when it opened here, but it was not to be. So here is my review after one viewing of this work.
The work is an Argentinian work originally written and produced in Spanish in 1993 now translated into English and used as part of a cultural exchange between Argentina and South Africa. It was directed by Princess Zinzi Mhlongo.
The young Elisa (Lurdes Laice) arrives as an apprentice in the kitchen of Nicole (Patricia Boyer), a sharp-tongued, apparently well educated, chef in the employ of a wealthy and unseen couple. Nicole taunts the illiterate Elisa mercilessly, although one suspects that their positions in life may be a little more similar than Nicole is willing to admit. When it becomes known that Elisa is pregnant the torture intensifies as Madame seems to favour the young pregnant lass. When Elisa expresses that she is leaving so as to go and find the father of the baby, Nicole tries to prevent her from leaving. The last scene finds Elisa’s baby in Nicole’s arms.
I didn’t quite follow the point of the play into its seemingly irrational conclusion. The work feels like a nasty fairy story, with a wicked “stepmother” (Nicole as a very unmotherly cook) and an absent landlord. The menu is gory (frogs and snails and puppy dog tails literally find their way into the pot in the form of snails and offal). The ending is sinister. I was later told that Argentinian dissidents during the Dirty War, like Apartheid ones, simply disappeared, and their children were often given to white people to raise. I thought about it for a while and then decided that Lurdes Laice, the actress portraying Elisa is coloured, while Patricia Boyer, the actress playing Nicole, is white. These things had not occurred to me until then. Either way, if it is not apparent from the staging of the play it becomes lost to the audience. I stayed for the post performance discussion and the whole thing was not unravelled then.
There is nothing in the performances which is off. Laice is a naive, but fairly self confident young woman. Boyer is a theatrical tour de force as she transforms from dour to maniacal and back again in an instant. The set is pared, which it needed to be when it made its premiere at the National Arts Festival (it was interesting watching them strike the set while the talk was going on).
All in all this is a stunning work, but I can’t help thinking that there might be lots of other things which were literally and figuratively lost in the translation.
Cooking with Elisa is on at the Auto and General Sandton Theatre on the Square until 2 August 2014. It is part of the Argentinian Cultural Festival.