Polls and poles: Uys aims pointy satire

by Beacon Staff • April 16, 2008

Uys has brought with him his repertoire of personalities-ranging from the current South African president Thabo Mbeki to prospective presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.,If you took Jon Stewart, put him in the body of Charles Nelson Reilly and added the voice of the Emcee from the musical Cabaret, you'd get something close to South African comedian, activist and occasional drag queen Pieter-Dirk Uys.

Uys has brought with him his repertoire of personalities-ranging from the current South African president Thabo Mbeki to prospective presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Using all of these personalities, Uys has created his one-man show Elections Erections, a satirical memoir of both the political turmoil throughout South Africa's history and his personal struggles with apartheid's legacy.

In the American Reparatory Theater's newsletter, Uys attributes the theme of his show to two of South Africa's policies during apartheid.

"Elections Erections refers to the two things that were illegal during my life as a young South African growing up in apartheid Cape Town," the release said.

But Uys is reaching past the skeletons in South Africa's political closet to grasp what he sees as the current wrongs in his country; chiefly among them, the president's continued refusal to recognize the AIDS epidemic in South Africa.

One moment criticizing President Mbeki's all-too quiet diplomacy and then admitting that South Africa is still a baby democracy, Uys captures the delicate balance between recognizing progress and expecting change.

In his opening sketch, in which he is costumed as a Hillary Clinton look-alike, Uys exclaims, "It's all about change!" Using Clinton's campaign strategy as a springboard, Uys launches into the beginning of a show that constantly switches between political stand up and impeccable mimicry.

He takes special care to reference current events in the United States, drawing in the audience with snide comments about Hillary Clinton's "pantsuits in those primary colors" and the fact that the Senator "always seems to know everybody" at her campaign events.

After Senator Clinton (and, for a brief interval, her husband) disappears from the stage, Uys begins a makeshift history lesson-meets-cultural-seminar on South Africa, explaining that while many rights have been extended to its citizens, there are limits.

"In theory we've got freedom of speech, in practice terms and conditions apply. Uys said, "there's lots of freedom but very little speech."

Among his scattered news trivia, however, are the very strong parallels Uys makes between his homeland and the United States. At one point he mentions the strong similarity between the Guantanamo Bay detention camp and Robben Island, a prison for political activists and troublemakers during apartheid. And when referring to the upcoming presidential election in South Africa, he notes that Thabo Mbeki's succession is unclear; "unlike George Bush, he doesn't have a John McCain to do it for him."

Uys perfectly captures the personalities of each character in his entourage, with accents and costumes that transform him from a middle-aged white man into a variety of races and sexes.

But one of the most honest parts of Uys' performance is a story from his own life, of how an erection led him to be a Democrat and see beyond apartheid. After having a relationship with a black South African boy in his youth, Uys understood the very real fear and danger surrounding the majority of his country's policies.

Most of his humor is easily digestible; it is farce without too much of a message and that is the glue that holds Uys' whole performance together. He begins to lose focus, however, when he expands on his feelings on the crisis in Zimbabwe.

In a sketch too chilling to be humorous, Uys sits on the darkened stage as Grace Mugabe, slowly adorning himself with glittering diamond jewelry while singing a very adult version of "Old MacDonald Had A Farm" about colonization.

In his version, Old MacDonald is Grace Mugabe and the farm in question has become the farms taken from citizens of Zimbabwe to line the pockets of its president and his wife.

Uys is best at his most ridiculous moments, the more serious he becomes the more he distracts from the purpose of his play. The work begins to feel like a didactic political rally rather than a piece of performance art.

Playing two characters of his own creation, Noelle Fine-a self-described Jewish-Afrikaan Princess-and the world-renowned Evita Bezuidenhout, (the most famous woman in South Africa, according to herself), Uys truly shines.

Bewigged, bedazzled and high-heeled, especially as Evita, Uys has found his niche in comedy. Evita is a glamorous delight, a fast-talking relic from the apartheid era who Uys has adapted brilliantly and used to her fullest.

Evita and her tongue-in-cheek opinions may be entirely politically incorrect but she remains a comical representation of South Africa's displaced white minority. Like many of her real-life counterparts, Evita is struggling to adapt to the new South Africa -at one point saying, "Isn't democracy a remarkable experience?"

Uys is a wonderful South African import and a talented impersonator. He has a refreshing ability to be both hopeful and hilarious at the same time. Throughout all of his comedy, Uys ultimately believes in a future for his country and for ours, in a time "where both elections and erections will be so ordinary and accepted that there would be no need for a show." In the meantime, his work is an excellent substitute.

Elections Erections will be playing at the ART's Zero Arrow Theatre until May 4.