Struggling to live and love freely when even home is 'dangerous'

'Dangerous House' premieres at Williamstown Theatre Festival

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WILLIAMSTOWN — They would look at each other across the field. Noxolo is a rising football star in Cape Town, South Africa. A woman would come to her games and sit in the stands. Game after game, Noxolo would feel her eyes across the field.

In time, she would feel more than that.

"Time holds between them. Warm. Weighted. A challenge, a promise. A current of electricity," when Saheem Ali directs Alfie Fuller as Noxolo and Emmy nominee Samira Wiley as Pretty Mbane in Jen Silverman's "Dangerous House," Aug. 8 to 19 at the Williamstown Theatre Festival.

In the small house where Noxolo first learns Pretty's laughter and her directness and her body, Pretty also cares for women who have been raped. Beaten. Left in the road. They come to her house bleeding, because they love women, and men have attacked them.

But as the World Cup comes to South Africa, Noxolo is half-drunk late at night in a London bar. She was asked to play for the South African national women's football team, but she came to England on a scholarship and a student visa.

"Life in South Africa would be harder," Fuller said. "She would face more obstacles. She's not from a background with money, and things were not easy. To go to school, to play football, to get a bit of money, that's an opportunity."

The offer is good, and the risk she has left behind is real. Living openly as gay can get people killed. In 2006, South Africa became the first country in Africa to protect sexual orientation as a human right under the constitution and, as of 2018, it is the only one.

But many people oppose that freedom. Many people do not consider "corrective rape," the act of raping an individual to "turn them heterosexual," a crime. Many people can include the police.

Noxolo's brother has stood by her and helped her to get to London, and he fears for her.

"He believes strongly that he's saving his sister's life," Silverman says, "and who wouldn't defend their family?"

But he tells people she has a husband there, and children.

"I love him," Fuller said, feeling the relationship on Noxolo's terms "and I appreciate the things he's done for me in the past — I would not have been able to have the life I've had without him — and at the same time I'm furious that he's not better than the men in the country who think the way they do. He should be better. I want him to be better. If you believe something heinous, but you have a loved one who falls into that category, it should change your mind. You should see they are humans who want to live their lives (freely)."

Wiley can feel Mbane's anger as she listens to Noxolo wrestling with her future. Mbane is disappointed at Noxolo for leaving, she said. Mbane is a staunch and defiant woman; she will not move from Capetown, and she will not hide or change or downplay who she is.

"Regardless of how messed up it it is," Wiley said, "(her home) is still hers. She's a finisher. She won't give up."

She will go on at the cost of her safety or her life.

It hits her hard that Noxolo left the country — and hardest that Noxolo has left her. Their relationship had a solid core. In all her wide experience, Mbane had never felt that naked intimacy before, never imagined a future she could share.

"Pretty's not someone who embraces vulnerability," Wiley said. "Even to admit that is a huge thing for her to do. To let someone see the soft parts of you is so scary. To have that person leave — whether they asked you to go with them or not — it breaks her. And she can't tell or show anyone that."

Mbane embraces her recklessness. "It's often seen as negative," Wiley said, but Silverman makes it a strength.

But there may be more than one way to make a life or a difference.

Noxolo's friend and employer, Marcel, has walked away from violence and pain in South Africa and made a new life in London, Silverman said. He has a business, a circle of friends, relationships when he wants them and the freedom to live openly.

"But the skies are so wide (in Capetown)," Noxolo tells Marcel. "Even in the city. The way people smile — on the streets — it is not just their faces, but their entire bodies that hold the smile. Do you remember that?"

He understands her longing for home, and he hears her longing for her lover.

"Whenever you're drunk you say her name like it's the only language you remember."

Noxolo and Mbane are drawn to each other like strong magnets. They have a formative and deep relationship, Silverman said, and they pursue their needs and desires with a single-mindedness and drive that can bring them together or drive them apart.

Mbane feels a calling. Silverman has loosely based her on Ndumie Funda, who petitioned her country's parliament in 2011 to treat corrective rape as a hate crime. A close friend and her fiancee were both raped, and both died of AIDS, infected by their attackers. After their deaths, Funda founded a nonprofit, Luleki Sizwe, a safe house to offer medical care, a refuge and resources to women who have been attacked and forced out of their homes.

Like her, Mbane speaks out.

"She has an understanding of what she thinks her purpose is," Wiley said, quietly and unshakably. "She's a savior."


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